The government has frequently repeated its commitment to protecting funding for schools and to improving the life chances of disadvantaged pupils. So one headteacher in a deprived part of the country was shocked, a fortnight ago, to find a £250,000 hole in her budget.

After some frantic digging, Jane Gardiner (not her real name) discovered that the shortfall was the result of changes to funding tied to the English Indices of Deprivation

[pdf], which plot the poorest neighbourhoods in the country. These were updated in September last year. Based on the indices, extra money is paid by local authorities to schools for the pupils who live in the poorest postcodes. This is in addition to the pupil premium, which comes from central government.

“My pupils had not all moved to leafy areas, but some of them were now regarded as less deprived than before, I can’t think why,” she says.

The change, says Gardiner, means that, although her urban school in south-west England continues to serve one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country, fewer pupils are now eligible for the highest bands of deprivation money.

A quarter of a million pounds is not a shortfall that can be patched. Her budget pressures now mean 12 members of staff will have to go. Half are jobs that will not be advertised when people leave, including two assistant headships; the other half will be redundancies including a teacher, reading assistants for primary children, a family link worker, an education welfare officer and a full-time counsellor whom Gardiner employed to support the mental health of vulnerable pupils. All must be gone by the end of the summer term.

“It feels horrible,” Gardiner says. “Some of my kids have serious mental health issues. Some families really struggle to engage and get their children into school – they don’t understand the importance of good attendance and punctuality – and these staff are on to them, phoning them in the morning. Our capacity to support those pupils will be reduced.”

Gardiner is not the only headteacher to be grappling with unforeseen cuts to her deprivation funding: at another school nearby, the percentage of pupils eligible for the two highest bands of postcode-linked money has dropped by 16%. Another school in the same area has lost £77,000.

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