Almost 60% of the most deprived fifth of schools had seen a real terms reduction in Government funding since 2017-18, according to the National Audit Office
Schools in the poorest areas have lost out on funding despite the Government’s “levelling up” agenda, the Whitehall spending watchdog has found.
The National Audit Office found cash from the national funding formula had been shifted from schools in better-off areas to more deprived parts of the country.
But almost 60% of the most deprived fifth of schools had seen a real terms reduction in Government funding since 2017-18.
While schools in poorer areas continue to receive more support than those in better-off parts of the country, the watchdog said the gap was narrowing.
And it questioned whether the formula was leading to a fair allocation of resources as it brought in minimum per-pupil funding levels which did not benefit better funded schools in poorer areas.
The findings are embarrassing for Boris Johnson who shortly after entering Downing Street in July 2019 announced an increase funding under the formula.
He said the aim was of “levelling up education funding and giving all young people the same opportunities to succeed”.
Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the powerful Public Accounts Committee, said schools had been left to plug a “staggering” gap in funding.
“Directly contradicting the Government’s levelling-up agenda, under its new formula funding has decreased in real terms for many of the deprived schools and increased for those already better off.
“DfE must get a grip of school funding to understand the impact of the pandemic and ensure resources target those most in need”.
Shadow Schools Minister Peter Kyle said the Tories were “stripping away funding” from schools and children in most need even before the pandemic.
“With the gap in learning between kids on free school meals and their peers widening it couldn’t be clearer the Government has got the wrong priorities for school funding,” he said.
“The Conservatives are neglecting children, and their ‘feeble’ recovery plans fall far short of what is needed.”
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “So yet again the Department for Education have been found out on school funding.
“Yet again their assurances that schools are in a strong financial position turn out not to be accurate.
“Yet again the Department’s claims to be prioritising the most disadvantaged turn out to be the opposite of their actions.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said the report laid bare the real picture underneath “all the spin from Government”.
“The truth is that, even if these were normal times, schools are still funded inadequately,” he said.
“Right now schools face ever-increasing cost pressures as they implement new government policies.
“And as the NAO rightly identifies, the government has utterly failed to take account of the impact of new cost pressures created by COVID-19.
“The government’s current funding plans are simply insufficient, and the stark reality is that many schools are likely to be forced to make continued cuts at a time when we should be investing heavily in children’s education.
Despite the report, the DfE claimed the formula was levelling up school funding and delivering resources where they are needed most.
A spokesman said: “It ensures that the areas with high proportions of students from disadvantaged backgrounds are receiving the highest levels of funding, providing £6.4 billion in funding for pupils with additional needs in 2021-22.”
The spokesman said the Government is providing the biggest uplift to school funding in a decade, with an additional £14 billion over the three years.