The Pupil Premium – a financial lifeline for schools in deprived areas

3 Jan

The Pupil Premium is an invaluable resource which has lifted the progress and achievements of some of the most deprived in our country.  The government has informed schools what they will receive in the next financial year, i.e. 2015/16, under this heading, when the total allocation will be £2.545 billion.  The breakdown is as follows.

  1. £1,320 per (eligible) pupil of primary-school age (rising from £1,300 this financial year)
  2. £935 per (eligible) pupil of secondary-school age
  3. £1,900 for every pupil who has been looked after for one day or more or has been adopted from care or has left care under a special guardianship order, a residence order or a child arrangement order

For the first time, pupils in nursery schools and classes will also attract this funding if they and their families qualify under at least one of the following criteria.

  1. Income Support
  2. income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  1. support under part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  2. the guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  3. Child Tax Credit(provided they’re not also entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual gross income of no more than £16,190)
  1. Where a child has been looked after for one day or more
  2. Where a child has been adopted from care
  3. Where a child has left care under a special guardianship order or residence order
  • A child must be eligible for free early education in order to attract Early Years’ Pupil Premium  (EYPP) funding. Children become eligible at different points in the year depending on when they turn three. Details of the dates when children become eligibleare available.

The funding is being used with varying levels of success mirrored in different parts of the country.  Fifteen of the 25 parliamentary consistencies where children in low-income families read with the greatest felicity and competence are in London.  These include Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Hampstead and Kilburn, Holborn and St Pancras, Kensington, Lewisham, Poplar and Limehouse, Vauxhall and West Ham.

None of the bottom (reading performance-wise) 25 parliamentary constituencies in which children in low income families live is in London.  Three are in seaside towns – Clacton, Great Yarmouth and Scarborough and Whitby – and the rest being in other towns and cities and in the shire counties.

According to the Reading England’s Future report, Read On, Get On, while one in four pupils leaves primary school unable to read well enough, the figure rises to four in 10 in “town and country”.

Something is going seriously awry and causing the government and Ofsted to experience a sense of jitters.

It’s worth recalling what Ofsted’s findings were two years ago about the success or otherwise of how schools used the Pupil Premium.

Where schools were successful they

  1. carefully ring-fenced the funding so that they always spent it on the target group of pupils;
  2. never confused eligibility for the Pupil Premium with low ability, and focused on supporting their disadvantaged pupils to achieve the highest levels;
  3. thoroughly analysed which pupils were underachieving, particularly in English and mathematics, and why;
  4. drew on research evidence and evidence from their own and others’ experience to allocate the funding to the activities that were most likely to have an impact on improving achievement;
  5. understood the importance of ensuring that all day-to-day teaching meets the needs of each learner, rather than relying on interventions to compensate for teaching that is less than good;
  6. allocated their best teachers to teach intervention groups to improve mathematics and English, or employed new teachers who had a good track record in raising attainment in those subjects;
  7. used achievement data frequently to check whether interventions or techniques were working and made adjustments accordingly, rather than just use the data retrospectively to see if something had worked;
  8. made sure that support staff, particularly teaching assistants, were highly trained and understood their role in helping pupils to achieve;
  9. systematically focused on giving pupils clear, useful feedback about their work, and ways that they could improve it;
  10. ensured that a designated senior leader had a clear overview of how the funding was being allocated and the difference it was making to the outcomes for pupils;
  11. ensured that class and subject teachers knew which pupils were eligible for the Pupil Premium so that they could take responsibility for accelerating their progress;
  12. had a clear policy on spending the Pupil Premium, agreed by governors and publicised on the school website;
  13. provided well-targeted support to improve attendance, behaviour or links with families where these were barriers to a pupil’s learning;
  14. had a clear and robust performance management system for all staff, and included discussions about pupils eligible for the Pupil Premium in performance management meetings;
  15. thoroughly involved governors in the decision-making and evaluation process; and
  16. were able, through careful monitoring and evaluation, to demonstrate the impact of each aspect of their spending on the outcomes for pupils.

In contrast, inspectors found where schools were less successful in spending the funding, they tended to have at least some of the following characteristics. They:

  1. had a lack of clarity about the intended impact of the spending;
  2. spent the funding indiscriminately on teaching assistants, with little impact;
  3. did not monitor the quality and impact of interventions well enough, even where other monitoring was effective;
  4. did not have a good performance management system for teaching assistants and other support staff;
  5. did not have a clear audit trail for where the funding had been spent;
  6. focused on pupils attaining the nationally expected level at the end of the key stage (Level 4, five A* to C grades at GCSE) but did not to go beyond these expectations, so some more able eligible pupils underachieved;
  7. planned their Pupil Premium spending in isolation to their other planning, for example, it was not part of the school development plan;
  8. compared their performance to local rather than national data, which suppressed expectations if they were in a low-performing local authority;
  9. compared the performance of their pupils who were eligible for free school meals with other eligible pupils nationally, rather than all pupils, again lowering expectations;
  10. did not focus their pastoral work on the desired outcomes for pupils and did not have any evidence to show themselves whether the work had or had not been effective; and
  11. did not have governors involved in making decisions about the Pupil Premium, or challenging the way in which it was allocated.

About two years ago, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Ofsted supremo, warned that “some schools still lacked good enough systems for tracking the spending of the additional funding or for evaluating the effectiveness of measures they had put in place in terms of improving outcomes.

“We will continue to take an active interest in this issue in the coming months. Where we find funding isn’t being spent effectively on improving outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, we will be clear in our criticism.

“It is vital that schools get this right. Every child who leaves school without the right qualifications faces a far more difficult path to fulfilling their potential and finding employment.”

However, other siren voices are calling for schools to do much, much more than concentrate on the narrow disciplines of English and mathematics – which appears to be the focus in using the Pupil Premium well.  The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, led by Alan Milburn, the former Labour Minister, who resigned from Tony Blair’s government to spend more time with his family, said that narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor would take decades.  In his latest report he called for ambitious targets to solve the issue of stagnant social mobility.

His report urged the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) to consider a new pay band for teachers prepared to work in the toughest areas.  He goes further.  The report that his task force wrote, Cracking the Code, proposes that the government launch a pilot of a new “Teachers’ Pay Premium” offering a 25% pay rise to 2,000 top teachers to entice them to move to challenging areas.

In an examination of what successful schools do, his task force identified four strategies.

  1. Use the Pupil Premium strategically to improve social mobility.
  2. Establish a culture of high expectations and inclusivity.
  3. Incessantly focus on the quality of teaching.
  4. Prepare students for all aspects of life, not just for exams.

For most people in education – especially in schools where work is a labour of love – this will be received in the same vein as advice given to grandmothers asked to “suck eggs”.

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