Millions of pounds swiped from England’s poorest schools in fresh ‘political’ funding switch

Many millions of pounds are being swiped from England’s poorest schools, in a funding switch triggering fresh accusations of bias towards Tory-held areas.

The date for calculating how many children are eligible for extra “pupil premium” cash has been quietly shifted to last October – before schools were able to register many of them.

One of London’s poorest boroughs, Barking and Dagenham, is set to lose more than £1m alone, and the amount lost by schools in similarly deprived areas could run to tens of millions of pounds.

One head teacher – whose school will lose £40,000 – said the sum was the equivalent of an extra teacher, or two support staff, leaving it with “very challenging” decisions to make.

“It is our youngest pupils who will be disadvantaged the most – and all the research shows that the earlier you provide help the better,” Scott Halliwell, of Southwood Primary School in Dagenham, told The Independent.

Anger has been fuelled by the switch being announced too late for schools to encourage parents to register for the pupil premium scheme, which is meant to benefit the poorest children.

Margaret Hodge, the local Labour MP, said she believed the allocations were being manipulated to favour Conservative areas, the latest in a series of similar allegations.

“I am sure the Department for Education (DfE) looked at the way the distribution of this money would fall and saw it benefitted the constituencies of Tory MPs,” Ms Hodge said.

“This is all about politics rather than need. This will take more than £1m from my borough’s schools which is not fair – and, if the government is serious about levelling up, it’s not fair.”

Mr Halliwell protested that the decision came too late to act. The youngest pupils receive free school meals anyway – leaving parents with no incentive to register for pupil premium cash, unless encouraged to do so.

“We were only informed in December, about a change that was being introduced two months earlier,” he said, explaining that 30 of 171 eligible pupils had been missed, of which 20 are in the youngest year groups.

Asked why the DfE had made the change, the head teacher added: “I could not possibly comment. I don’t know whether they realise the impact this will have on us.”

The Education Policy Institute also raised the alarm, saying there were “questions to raise about the timing of this change”.

“The economic situation caused by the pandemic means schools are likely to have seen more pupils become eligible for the pupil premium towards the end of last year,” said Jon Andrews, its head of analysis.

“This means that we could now see a rise in the number of pupils classed as ‘disadvantaged’, but without the funding to support these extra pupils arriving for a whole year.”

The pupil premium, introduced by the Cameron-Clegg government, hands over £1,345 for every primary age pupil who claims a free school meal, or £955 for a secondary student.

Allocations have always been based on numbers registered by each January – but was suddenly switched to “the number of eligible pupils recorded by schools in their census in October 2020”.

That was just a few weeks after the new school year started. There has long been criticism of the failure to introduce automatic registration, requiring parents to be badgered.

A Barking and Dagenham Council survey found that 40 of its 60 schools had collectively lost £862,000 – suggesting the overall loss will top £1m.

That would “more than offset” the money they would receive from a promised £700m “catch-up” fund to compensate for learning lost because of the pandemic.

But the DfE insisted using data from October allowed schools to “know their budget earlier in the year, helping them to plan ahead”.

“We also recently announced £302m for a Recovery Premium, building on the pupil premium, which will be targeted towards the most deprived schools to support disadvantaged students’ attainment,” a spokesperson said.

Meanwhile costs for getting rid of the No 10 “John Lewis” look seem to be growing

According to the Daily Mail:

Boris Johnson fears the final bill for Carrie Symonds‘s lavish makeover of their Downing Street flat could be as high as £200,000.

Extract from Simon Walters 

He told aides of his worries in crisis meetings on how to pay for his fiancee’s refurbishment. 

A source said the Cabinet Office had asked Conservative chiefs if party HQ has paid for some of the work – but failed to get an answer.

The Prime Minister faced further trouble last night over claims that Whitehall ethics chiefs have refused to approve his secret bid to help raise funds for the makeover by setting up a ‘Downing Street charity’.

According to Tatler, the main living area of the flat has been painted deep green and is often lit by candles.

7 Things The Government Spent Money On Instead Of A Pay Rise For NHS Staff

Tory ministers are facing a backlash following their decision to recommend only a 1% pay rise for NHS workers despite the unprecedented pressure staff suffered during the coronavirus pandemic.

[Worth remembering that pensioners will continue to get a minimum 2.5% rise as the Chancellor did not scrap the “triple lock” of granting pensioners 2.5%, consumer prices index, or average wage rise whichever is the greatest. – Owl]

Graeme Demianyk

The growing anger and the threat of industrial action risks eclipsing Rishi Sunak’s manicured budget and the successful vaccine roll-out, with calls for the public to support a slow hand clap next week against the pay proposals.

A 1% rise represents a drop in the bucket in the context of the government-backed Covid relief package worth £407bn.

NHS accounts for 2019/20 show that £45.1bn was spent on salaries and wages, meaning a rise of 1% would amount to approximately £450m. Under another estimate, the Department of Health and Social Care referenced a figure of £56.1bn covering permanent and “bank” staff spending in 2019/20 in evidence to the NHS pay review board. That would mean a 1% uptick costing around £561m.

Critics have pointed to how the government has lavished significant sums of money elsewhere, often on projects with questionable merits. Here are a list of just a handful or so that have caused anger in the last 18 months.

£2.6m: Refurbishment for White House-style press briefings

Downing Street has spent more than £2.6 million on renovations in order to hold White House-style press briefings, it was revealed on Saturday.

According to the PA news agency after a response to a Freedom of Information request, a total £2,607,767.67, largely excluding VAT, was spent to allow daily broadcasting by various news organisations within the Grade I listed building.

An extensive overhaul within No 9 Downing Street began last year as the government announced the plans to hold the televised question and answer sessions with journalists, with their launch long delayed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “It would take around 100 years for a newly qualified nurse to get paid this kind of money.

“It sums up Boris Johnson’s warped priorities that he can find millions for vanity projects, while picking the pockets of NHS workers.”

Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper added: “This is nothing more than an expensive vanity project and is just more evidence that this government’s priority is spin, not substance.

“The prime minister himself said that he ‘owed his life’ to Covid doctors and nurses but now he’s happy to see front-line nurses take a real-terms pay cut, whilst he gets a flashy new TV studio – the prime minister should hang his head in shame.”

£37bn: Spending on troubled Test and Trace system 

HuffPost UK revealed on Thursday that the small print of Sunak’s budget showed the Test and Trace system is to get another £15bn, bringing its total cost to £37bn. The funding for 2021/22 comes on top of this year’s spending allocation of £22bn.

MPs said that the “eye-watering” sums should prompt ministers to do more to prove that the system, run by Tory peer Dido Harding, was giving taxpayers real value for money. 

Test and Trace has been dogged by criticism since its launch last April, with critics seizing on its use of private consultants at £1,000-a-day, its outsourcing to firms like Serco and its failure to deliver contact tracing rates or rapid test turnaround times seen as vital to stop the spread of Covid.

The National Audit Office published an interim report on Test and Trace last November which concluded that the government “needs to learn lessons” and that the service “is able to make a bigger contribution to suppressing the infection than it has to date”.

£340,000: Payout to Home Office official after Priti Patel bullying claims 

On Thursday, it emerged the government agreed a “substantial” payout to settle a top civil servant’s employment tribunal claim after he quit amid allegations of home secretary Priti Patel’s bullying.

Home Office chief Sir Philip Rutnam is reported to have accepted a six-figure sum after launching legal action against the Cabinet minister.

The department’s former permanent secretary dramatically resigned in February last year, accusing Patel of a “vicious and orchestrated” briefing campaign against him, claiming constructive dismissal and accusing Patel of bullying her subordinates.

A 10-day employment tribunal to hear Sir Philip’s case was due to take place in September.

Neither the Home Office nor the the FDA Union would disclose the amount of the settlement but it is understood to be a “substantial” sum.

But the BBC, the Guardian and the Times all reported the figure was £340,000.

£4.4bn: Additional costs of Brexit preparations

Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union cost the taxpayer more than £4 billion in additional government costs, according to the Whitehall spending watchdog last March.

The NAO said that between the EU referendum in June 2016 and March 31 last year, government departments will have spent at least £4.4 billion, while £6.3 billion was allocated by the Treasury for Brexit preparations.

They included planning for both “deal” and “no deal” scenarios, with £2 billion specifically earmarked for “no deal” preparations in 2019-20 – although this was scaled back after the prospects of “no deal” receded.

Of the money spent, £1.9 billion went on staffing costs, £1.5 billion on building new systems and infrastructure, and £288 million on bringing in expertise and external advice.

At the peak of activity, in October 2019, there were 22,000 staff working on Brexit preparations, including 1,500 who had been moved within government to prepare for a possible “no deal” exit. 

£150m: Millions of unusable face masks

During the early days of the pandemic, the government scrambled to secure deals with suppliers for precious personal protective equipment (PPE). Questions have been raised about many of the contracts, among the most notorious being a deal for 50 million face masks that did not work.

The masks were bought for NHS England from investment firm Ayanda Capital as part of a £252 million contract. But the government said because they used ear-loop fastenings rather than head loops, they may not have fit tightly enough for clinical use. It confirmed in court papers that the masks would not be used in the NHS.

Based on incomplete Whitehall figures, the Good Law Project and EveryDoctor estimate the 50m masks would have cost more than £150m of public money. 

£60m: Falling short of supplying computers to disadvantaged schools

A £60m contract was awarded for the education department to provide laptops to teachers and disadvantaged children during the lockdown.

But in August, HuffPost UK revealed the scale of the failure to deliver the computers to the poorest communities. Figures obtained by the Children’s Commissioner for England showed 27 academy trusts were left with just one device each.

In April, education secretary Gavin Williamson pledged the government would fund devices for children on free school meals in Year 10, as well as for vulnerable pupils with social workers and care leavers. But, despite some 540,000 pupils being eligible for the scheme, just 220,000 laptops were delivered to schools by August as a second lockdown loomed.

£1m: Boris Johnson’s ‘Brexit plane’ gets a red, white and blue makeover 

A plane used to transport the prime minister and the royal family was given a red, white and blue makeover that cost almost £1m.

The once-grey RAF Voyager was resprayed in white, with a Union flag on the tailfin and United Kingdom written in gold on the fuselage.

Boris Johnson had complained about the military paint scheme used on the jet.

As well as being a serving military plane, Voyager is used to transport the prime minister and members of the royal family to engagements abroad.

The cost of the respray, undertaken at an airport in Cambridgeshire, was condemned by opposition politicians when it was revealed.

The SNP lambasted it as an “utterly unacceptable use of public funds”.

Downing Street, which confirmed the work would cost “around £900,000”, said the new colour scheme meant the plane could better represent the UK around the world with “national branding”.

Devon covid down

The number of number of coronavirus cases confirmed across Devon and Cornwall has dropped nearly 40 per cent this week, down to the lowest levels since September.

Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter

A total of 380 new cases were confirmed across the two counties in the last week, down from 650 the week before, and bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 45,964.

Cornwall has the second lowest infection rates of any upper tier authority in England, with Devon third, behind the Isle of Wight.

Of new cases confirmed since 26 February, 78 were in Cornwall, 67 in East Devon, 29 in Exeter, 23 in Mid Devon, 14 in North Devon, 86 in Plymouth, six in South Hams, 24 in Teignbridge, 41 in Torbay, six in Torridge and six in West Devon.

In terms of infection rates per age range, case rates are highest in the over 80s in Devon.

Exeter has its highest infection rates in the 40-59 age range, while every other local district authority has its highest figures in the 20-39s. In Devon, no age group has an infection rate of more than 50/100,000.

The number of patients in Devon’s hospitals following a positive covid-19 test has fallen to levels not seen since the middle of October, and at 43 patients has more than halved in a week. The NHS Nightingale Hospital is empty.

There were 12 patients at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital (down from 22 as of Feb 23), zero at the Nightingale (down from 17), 10 at Torbay Hospital (down from 16), 18 in Derriford Hospital in Plymouth (down from 32), two at North Devon District Hospital (unchanged), and one in Devon Partnership NHS Trust units (up from zero).

In the last week, there have been eight deaths in Devon and Cornwall hospitals of patients within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test, with three in Cornwall, three in Plymouth, one in Torbay, and one in North Devon.

It comes as Steve Brown, director of public health Devon, said that testing is going to be the cornerstone of transition back to normal life. He said: “Over coming weeks and months, we are going to see a lot more movement of people – students returning to education, more people getting back to work, the loosening of restrictions on how many people we can be in contact with, and in time shops, cafes, and other businesses reopening.

“Coronavirus thrives on socialisation, which is why we see case numbers fall during lockdown, when movement and socialising is restricted.

“Taking a test regularly – the rapid tests that give results within the hour – is going to be an absolutely vital part of our way out of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Local community testing sites are available to anyone who work or whose volunteering requires them to be in contact with other people. We are also encouraging parents of secondary school and college-age students to use the community testing centres, as well as people in support bubbles. The tests are very quick and easy to take and results are texted or emailed back to you within the hour.”

Latest figures on vaccines show that more than half of all adults in East Devon, Torbay and West Devon have now had their first jab.

By 28 February, 461,165 vaccines had delivered in Devon, 445,074 of them first doses. Just under 50,000 vaccinations were carried out last week.