Details of the coalition government’s flagship ‘pupil premium’ will be unveiled today with schools in line for an extra £430 for every poorer child on their books.
However, the Liberal Democrat-inspired supplement has already been criticised as too low to have a significant impact on social mobility.
And Labour has branded the policy a “con” because it is being funded from within the education budget rather than with new money.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg revealed the level of the premium for 2011-12 yesterday as he sought to highlight the benefits of his party being in government following the tuition fees row.
“When money is tight, you have to be really clear about what your priorities are,” Mr Clegg said. “One of mine has always been making sure that the most disadvantaged children in this country get the help they need.
“Despite the recent controversy, all the evidence shows that the best way to help bright kids from poor families get to university is to target additional resources at them when they are younger and so give them a head start in life.
“By targeting money directly at our poorest children, the coalition government is starting on the long and hard road to breaking down one of the most socially segregated education systems in the developed world.”
As the cash allocated to the policy increases in future years, the amount per child will rise and more pupils will be covered. Funds will also be weighted to areas of the country where they are most needed.
Schools will have freedom to choose exactly how the extra money should be used.
Education secretary Michael Gove is to give more details of the scheme today, at the same time as he announce the education and schools budgets for the coming years.
Funding for repairs and maintenance of existing school buildings is expected to fall as more capital expenditure goes on new “free schools” and academies.
Shadow business secretary John Denham, left, told BBC1’s Andrew Marr show the Pupil Premium was a “con”.
“If it was new money going to the poorest pupils, I’m sure we would be very pleased about it,” he said.
“This is money that’s already in the education budget, simply being redistributed, robbing Peter to pay Paul.
“About two thirds of schools are going to see shrinking budgets - so this isn’t any sort of victory for the Liberal Democrats.”
But Treasury chief secretary Danny Alexander, right, said the education funding would go further because of savings being made by the coalition, such as in the wage bill.
“We have been able to ensure that the schools budget rises in real terms,” he told the BBC. “That is what the settlement does. By doing things like freezing the pay of public sector workers, including teachers, we are giving more spending power to schools but we are seeking to focus rises within that on the most disadvantaged children.”
Save the Children’s head of UK policy, Sally Copley, said: “Whilst the announcement of the pupil premium today is welcome, we are dismayed that the level has been set so low for 2011/2012.
“Our estimate is that it takes an extra £3,000 per child significantly to narrow the shocking attainment gap between richer and poorer students - that is seven times as much as the government has allocated.
“Even if the government spending on the premium does rise, as projected, four-fold over the next three years, it still doesn’t reach this critical level.”