Schools minister David Laws has asserted that some schools could make better use of pupil premiums in aiding primary and secondary teachers to improve disadvantaged children's performance.
Under the £2.5-billion per year pupil premium scheme, 1.8 million pupils entitled to free school meals either now or at some stage in the past six years will draw £900 of additional funding for their schools.
It is hoped that this will address England's attainment gap, with 36.3 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals attaining five GCSEs, including in English and maths, at grades A*-C in 2012, compared to 62.6 per cent of all other children.
Yet in an interview with the Independent, Mr Laws has vociferously criticised some schools for failing to utilise this funding effectively, particularly in areas where poorer pupils are very much a minority.
Deprived children fared particularly badly in counties like Buckinghamshire, Dorset, West Sussex, Wiltshire, Surrey and Hampshire, while attaining their best results in places like Manchester and parts of inner London, where overall deprivation levels are much higher.
Mr Laws said his aim was to halve the attainment gap, adding that he has written to around 100 schools in the 15 areas where the variance in pupil performance is greatest and urged them to ensure pupil premium money is used to help those in teaching jobs to close it.
He warned: "Local authorities and schools need to understand that they cannot hide behind good headline figures if they fail a very large cohort of pupils."
Under new measures, Ofsted will no longer award schools 'outstanding' status if they are failing to close the attainment gap and could instead rate them as 'requiring improvement'.
In February, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development published rankings indicating that UK schools' performance was above average by international standards, but that they did less well in a comparison of teenagers' reading skills with levels of social equity.
Posted by Theo Foulds