New Sutton Trust polling suggests costs of pandemic are having an impact on funding for disadvantaged pupils, while use of evidence in decision-making and a focus on tutoring increases.

Over a third (34%) of heads say the funding they get for poorer pupils is being used to plug general gaps in their school’s budget – a rise from 23% in 2019, suggesting that the cost to schools of coping with the pandemic is having an impact on funding earmarked for disadvantaged pupils. This is according to new polling published by the Sutton Trust today.

The problem is particularly pronounced in primary schools, where 35% of senior leaders say they’re using their pupil premium funding in this way, compared with 28% of those who lead secondary schools.

The survey of 1,528 teachers, conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) for the Trust as part of their Teacher Voice Omnibus Survey, examines how schools across England are using their pupil premium funding.

Despite the increased use of pupil premium money to plug budget gaps, the use of evidence in deciding how to spend this funding continues to rise. Almost four-fifths (79%) of all senior leaders said they considered research evidence when deciding how to spend their pupil premium funding, with 69% citing the Sutton Trust / Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit. Use of the Toolkit is up from 65% last year and 39% in 2012 when it was first launched.

The increasing use of research evidence is reflected in the changing priorities for heads in how they spend their pupil premium funding. Almost one in five (17%) of secondary heads report that one-to-one and small group tuition – one of the most well evidenced approaches – is their priority for pupil premium spending this school year.

In 2020, one-to-one tuition was the fourth most popular choice, with the change since then reflecting the increased focus on tutoring by the government and the work of the National Tutoring Programme. For heads in primary schools, the most popular priorities for pupil premium funding are early intervention schemes (23%) and paying for more teaching assistants (18%).

Today’s polling comes on the back of a large body of research that shows how disadvantaged pupils have suffered the most because of the disruption to schooling caused by the pandemic. The additional funding schools get through the pupil premium has never been more important.

Yet a change to the reporting date for the pupil premium has meant that schools are set to lose tens of millions of pounds. Schools usually report the number of pupils they have who are eligible for pupil premium in January. But for this school year the government changed the date to October. This means that any children who became eligible recently – for example because their parents have lost work – will not receive any extra funding until next year.

With more pupils becoming eligible for pupil premium funding as a result of the economic effects of the pandemic, data from the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) suggests the average primary school is set to lose £6,000 because of the reporting date change. The Sutton Trust and its sister charity, the Education Endowment Foundation, is concerned about the impact this lost funding could have on teaching and learning for disadvantaged pupils.

They are calling on the government to reverse this decision to ensure that schools receive pupil premium funding for all eligible pupils. In addition, both charities would like to see significant financial support for disadvantaged pupils prioritised in the education recovery plan.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“At a time when schools are facing monumental challenges, the additional funding they get through the pupil premium has never been more important.

“So it’s concerning to see that a third of heads are using this funding to plug general budget gaps, likely because they face additional costs due to the pandemic. The priority of the education recovery plan must be to provide enough resources for disadvantaged pupils, so that they can begin to recover from the massive disruption of the last year.”

Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“It is great to see that more schools are using research evidence and the EEF Toolkit to decide how to send their pupil premium funding. Evidence is a useful starting place for school leaders to use in conjunction with their professional judgement and knowledge of their school and its pupils.”

“However we’re worried that the change to the pupil premium reporting date could mean schools lose thousands of pounds of funding for their disadvantaged pupils because of a bureaucratic detail. This detail may seem minor, but it could have real-world implications for the support that schools are able to provide to their pupils who need it most.”


  • The Sutton Trust was founded by Sir Peter Lampl in 1997 to improve social mobility in Britain.  The Trust has influenced government policy on more than 30 occasions; its programmes have to date given 50,000 young people the opportunity to change their lives; and it has published over 200 pieces of agenda-setting research.
  • The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) is the leading independent provider of education research. The NFER runs Teacher Voice Omnibus Surveys three times a year, in the autumn, spring and summer terms. The robust survey achieves responses from over 1,000 practising teachers from schools in the publicly funded sector in England. The panel is representative of teachers from the full range of roles in primary and secondary schools, from head teachers to newly qualified class teachers. 1,535 practising teachers in the publicly funded sector in England completed the survey online between 12th – 17th March 2021.


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