Heads disappointed at grant pay-out

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LETTER OF THE DAY: Lonely? We can help you in Portsmouth

A HIGHLY anticipated grant that promised to help boost the fortunes of the poorest students has left headteachers disappointed.

The payout, called a pupil premium, was designed to give schools extra help with pupils from deprived backgrounds.

At first a figure of 2,000 was mooted for every pupil who received free school meals.

But later it was announced it will amount to just 430 a year for each of those youngsters.

Derek Trimmer, headteacher of Mayfield School, North End, where 200 students qualify, said: 'Of course when there was talk of up to 2,000 per head which would have made a real dent in tackling inequality.

'This figure is not as good as we might have hoped for. But the whole country is going through tough economic times and we are grateful for any money we get to spend on our neediest pupils.'

Mr Trimmer said extra cash - such as that provided by schemes such as the government's National Challenge fund for deprived areas would help fund smaller class sizes, extra lessons for struggling students and even one-to-one teaching.

Mr Trimmer added: 'If you look at schools across the country, those supported by National Challenge money have by far made the most progress. Investment does bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots.'

Mike Smith, headteacher at City of Portsmouth Boys, Hilsea, where 100 children are on free school meals, said: 'We're in difficult times, so it would be churlish to complain about the premium when people are losing their jobs left right and centre. I'm sure our final schools budget next year will be a little less, so the extra 430 per pupil will go towards maintaining services we already have, such as supporting children who have fallen behind with focused one hour weekly sessions.'

The pupil premium will see 2.1m invested in 4,640 Portsmouth pupils on free school meals each year until 2014/15. Cllr Terry Hall, cabinet member for education at Portsmouth City Council, hailed the announcement as 'good news for Portsmouth'.

But Sally Copley, Save the Children's head of UK policy, is 'dismayed'. She said: 'Our estimate is that it takes an extra 3,000 per child to significantly narrow the shocking attainment gap between richer and poorer students - that is seven times as much as the government has allocated.'