Exclusive: millions in funding for pupils in care left unspent

Pupil premium money supposed to be boosting educational chances of looked-after children is clawed back by government

Councils failed to spend up to a third of the pupil premium funding aimed at improving the educational outcomes of looked-after children, TES can reveal.

An investigation has revealed that more than £2.5 million of pupil premium plus money was clawed back by central government last year after it was not spent by local authorities. The unspent amount is equal to the pupil premium funding for nearly 1,500 looked-after children.

Forty-one of England’s 150 local authorities did not spend all the money they were given in 2014-15 and nine returned between 20 per cent and 33 per cent of it.

Pupil premium plus raised the funding for looked-after children to £1,900 per pupil from April 2014. It is distributed to the virtual school heads in every local authority, responsible for improving educational acheivement among what is one of the lowest performing groups of pupils in the country.

Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:“It is seriously concerning to hear that some of this funding is not being utilised and spent how it was intended – on improving outcomes for the most disadvantaged pupils.”

Gateshead returned £202,250 last year – a third of its allocation, equal to the funding for 106 pupils. A spokesman for the authority said that the Department for Education allocated the money based on 322 children being eligible, but Gateshead’s annual return showed that only 241 children were in care.

“Unfortunately, they provided no lists to allow us to account for their extra 81 children,” he said. “The difference in funding relates to looked-after children, which the DfE said we had but who we had no means of identifying.”

Croydon returned £248,379, nearly a quarter of its pupil premium plus funding. A spokesman for the council said that there were peaks and troughs in demand throughout the year, and DfE money was sometimes received too late in the year to spend.

The underspends for each council were obtained by TES via a freedom of information request and compared with DfE statistics on last year’s pupil premium allocations.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We expect virtual school heads to work in partnership with schools to ensure this funding is allocated and used effectively to meet children’s needs.

“Virtual school heads are held to account by Ofsted who monitor all aspects of the education of looked after children, including how this funding is used.”

This is an edited article from the 1 July edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week’s TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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