The Pupil Premium: maximising its benefits

17 Apr

The national average for pupils on free schools meals (FSM) is 14%.   The attainment gap between these children and the rest is 27.4%.  The government is keen to bridge this chasm. Consequently, it has created a pot of resources, called the Pupil Premium, which schools must deploy for the benefit of those on FSM.  In their calculations, schools can include all children who at some stage during the last six years of their careers were entitled to FSM.

In the last academic year, every child entitled to FSM attracted £623. This year, the sum has gone up £900.   The raison d’être for this is for the nation to assist children from disadvantaged backgrounds surmount the economic and social obstacles they encounter.  Material deprivation can be a major impediment in these children’s paths resulting in ill-health, family stress, low levels of parental education and parental involvement in children’s education.    The socially disadvantaged parents have low levels of cultural and social capital and tend to have low aspirations for their children as well.

In 2013/14, the Pupil Premium funding amounts of £1.875 billion.   The indicator used for disadvantage is that a pupil (according to the January 2013 Pupil Level Annual School Census, i.e. PLASC data) would have been on FSM in the last six years. In addition, every disadvantaged pupil in a non-mainstream setting, who is publicly funded – as also a looked-after child – attracts £900 on the same criterion.  The school at which a child of parents who are in the Army, Navy or Air Force will also receive £300.

Altogether, £50 million has been set aside from the Pupil Premium Funding to provide for the Summer School Programme for disadvantaged pupils to support their transition to secondary schools in September 2013.

Schools have been concerned about missing out on pupils who are not on free school meals but may have been so over the last six years. Accordingly, the Department for Education provided them with initial download data on the 13 February 2012 via the Key to Success website which will follow the individual pupils around the system if, and when, they transfer schools.

The data is available in two formats: a partial Common Transfer File (CTF) which can be used to update pupil records within Management Information Systems (MIS) with historical FSM eligibility and also a CSV (Comma-Separated Value) spreadsheet for easier data analysis. Full guidance on the download is available on the department’s website.

The government has established accountability measures that schools ignore at their peril.   Each school must publish on its website the following information on the Pupil Premium.

(1)        How much Pupil Premium funding the Department for Education (via the local authority) allocated to the school for the academic year.

(2)        How the school intends to spend the Pupil Premium.

(3)        How it spent the Pupil Premium for the last financial year.

(4)        The impact that the expenditure of the Premium had on the pupils entitled to them over the last financial year.

Apart from being required to publish the above information for parents on their websites, while schools are free to decide how to spend their Premium, they will be held to account through

(1)        the performance tables – SATs and examination results and

(2)        Ofsted inspections.

The research has shown (see Maximising the pupil premium by Jonathan Clifton of the Institute for Public Policy Research writing in the National Governors’ Association journal, Governing Matters, January/February 2013) that the gap in achievement between those on FSM and those who are not appears long before children reach secondary school.  In fact, a big divide exist before children even start school.

In a three-year study, academics from the Universities of Warwick, Newcastle, the West of England and the Institute of Education University of London – commissioned by the government – discovered that children from deprived neighbourhoods entitled to FSM were more than twice as likely as other pupils to be identified as having speech and language communication needs (SLCN).  Communication problems, they concluded, were more prevalent among children from ethnic minorities and boys than their white peers and girls.   They also concluded that children from black communities were almost twice as likely as white pupils to be listed with SLCN.

The standards gap between those on FSM and the rest just widens with the passage of time.  This is one of the reasons why schools in well-heeled areas do so much better than those that are serving deprived neighbourhoods.  However, programmes such as the London Challenge have demonstrated that raising the achievements of children on FSM can be successfully met through innovative teaching, collaboration and effective inservice training.

Governors – as part of their accountability function – should, if they are not already doing so, request the Headteacher to provide regular reports on how the Pupil Premium is being deployed and what is its impact.   A nascent problem was manifest in the early part of 2013 was that, in some schools, leaders were scratching their perplexed heads about whether or not the funding should be used on FSM pupils, because they were among the better-performing ones at their schools.

Meanwhile, at the end of February 2013, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, launched a competition to find the school that is using the Pupil Premium to educate its poorest pupils most effectively.  Collaborating with the Times Educational Supplement, he created the Pupil Premium Awards with cash prizes of up to £10,000.  “The Pupil Premium is designed to close gaps in educational attainment, and that is what the awards will recognise and celebrate,” he said. “The awards will showcase schools that have done the most to boost the performance of their poorest children and to narrow the gap with their better-off peers.

“It will be particularly interesting to hear from schools about how these great things have been achieved: we all want to see creative, innovative and constructive examples of what works.”

The closing date for application is 17 April 2013.   For further information and to enter the competition go to www.tes.co.uk/ppawards.

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