The Leading Magazine for Primary Educators
Effective use of pupil premium
Main Subject: CPD
Subject: School improvement
Author: Kevin Harcombe
How do you SPEND YOURS?
Asked what their top priority for Pupil Premium money would be for this academic year, less than 3% of teachers identified the most cost-effective classroom approaches, according to a survey by the Sutton Trust
The way in which schools spend their Pupil Premium is now public knowledge. But will this show money has been invested wisely to support the learning of children eligible for free school meals, or that funding is plugging holes elsewhere, asks Kevin Harcome…
Iwas a teenage Free School Meals (FSM) pupil. As confessions go that’s not exactly up there with I Was A Teenage Werewolf, but it does give me a personal perspective in the ongoing educational debate about disadvantage, aspiration and the role of ‘closing the gap’ initiatives, such as the Pupil Premium - a pithy name for throwing ‘additional’ cash resource at raising the educational attainment of disadvantaged pupils.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation set out the problem that the PP is intended to help solve: “The attainment gap at age five grows during the primary school years, so that (i) the highest early achievers from lowincome households are overtaken by lower-achieving children from more affluent backgrounds by age seven; and (ii) by age eleven, about threequarters of children from the poorest fifth of families reach the expected level at Key Stage 2, compared with 97 per cent of children from the most affluent fifth.”
If, like me, you struggle with research statistics, allow me to summarise with the help of an old but universally true music hall refrain - “It’s the rich wot get the gravy, it’s the poor wot gets the blame.”
Nick Clegg came across a Dutch pupil premium scheme whilst an MEP and it was he who insisted it be part of the Coalition agreement: “How can it be that in a modern, open society like ours a child’s destiny is still determined by their background? How can it be that, despite all the promise on a four or five year old’s first day at school, despite the passion and dedication of their teachers, too often you can plot that child’s path just by asking how much their parents earn?” Few could disagree with the morality of that argument, but how effective is the Pupil Premium as a tool to combat disadvantage? FSM has been important to schools in accountability terms for years as it contextualised the school’s performance for Ofsted, helping to level the playing field between affluent and disadvantaged schools. This year, schools will receive £600 per FSM pupil – and that’s any pupil who has been eligible for FSM in the last six years.
In the first year of its implementation the Pupil Premium cost 2.5 billion pounds. Channel 4 News Fact Checker worked out that only 800 million came from outside the education budget (snatched from the welfare budget, in fact) whilst the other 1.7 billion came from cuts to the existing education budget – including the controversial culling of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). Without the Pupil Premium, the education budget would have shrunk in real terms. Moreover, that shrinkage will be most keenly felt by those schools with few FSM pupils whilst those with large numbers of FSM will do quite well. As a piece of redistributive legislation it is as radical as anything Labour did, though, of course, because so little of it is new money, it is the archetypal rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.
Little wonder then, that many schools are effectively using PP to plug shortfalls elsewhere in their budgets, principally in staffing costs. Many headteachers blithely took the money into their general spending pot – and spent it – until it became clear that public accountability was (belatedly) part of the deal. As one headteacher put it, “I didn’t really think about what we were doing with it until I realised we have to publish information on the website. Not that we have one.” Some schools might be declaring they used the PP money to set up a website to publish the news that they had used the PP to set up a website to… You get the idea. Was this really what Nick Clegg had in mind?
That headteacher is typical, so there may be a problem if the children for whom the PP is intended are not getting full access to it. Of course, just as statemented children often receive additional support – for sound educational reasons – as part of a group, so FSM children undoubtedly benefit from more general schemes. Joy Squibb, head of St. Johns Primary, in urban Gosport, agreed that, “In practice our pupil premium mainly goes into our staffing budget and allows us to have a teacher whose role is in ‘raising standards’. Where groups of pupils are identified at pupil progress meetings (PPM) as stuck or making slow progress, she is then able to work with either individuals or small groups of pupils, liaising with the class teacher, and give very focused and pupil-specific teaching. I would say some premium also goes towards the funding of both our Every Child Counts (ECC) and Every Child A Reader (ECaR) teachers who are making a significant difference. We track attainment of all groups, including those identified as vulnerable, in each PPM so any needs are identified early and strategies put in place for catch up.”
This is admirable stuff, supported by research, and similar to the use made of PP by Jane Noble, headteacher of Beaulieu Primary in The New Forest, who has about 12 FSM in a school of 110 pupils. “These children have always been supported in lots of different ways, e.g. extra staff to support them in their academic progress, support with school trips and residentials, music tuition, etc. The pupil premium helps supplement the ongoing financial outlay that we spend to support these children in any way we can to ensure they have exactly the same opportunities as all the others. Unfortunately, the pupil premium money for a small primary is like a drop in the ocean!”
This itself is a potential downside to PP – economies of scale. A dozen FSM pupils will bring in £7,200 this year, or barely one third of a full-time teacher. If you have 36 FSM pupils, you have nearly enough for a NQT.
One head talked to me about parents’ perceptions of how the money is used when schools have to publish it. “The head of a nearby school uses it to fund support for Wave 3 interventions, so if I put we use it for trips, etc. there would be parents who would favour our school because it offered free trips, over and above pupil progress!”
Using it to help pay for residentials for vulnerable children, learning mentors and ELSA support are widespread and these things undoubtedly address some of the barriers to closing the attainment gap for some FSM children. One head bought alarm clocks for persistently late / absent children and – despite the potentially humorous nature of this intervention – improvement followed. Many schools use funds to pay for breakfast club for FSM as you don’t learn on an empty stomach. Several schools are experimenting with iPads as a means of motivating children as well as using ICT to beef up learning. No one has yet suggested buying the latest trainers to improve self-esteem, but I bet it won’t be long.
Many of these strategies chime in with recommendations from the Sutton Trust, which has helpfully produced a “Toolkit of strategies to improve learning for schools spending the Pupil Premium,” though few are rated in its top 10. This is an excellent document (tinyurl.com/tpsuttontrust) and should be required reading for anyone involved in teaching. According to the Sutton Trust, a quarter of teachers do not know how to spend the Pupil Premium. I’m surprised it’s so few. I was especially pleased to read in it that Learning Styles are a load of old bollocks. (That’s my executive summary, by the way - the report’s author simply refers to “low impact”.) If the Sutton Trust chilled out their academic language a little, this is what their findings might look like:
- Dropping out of the Top 10 are Performance Pay, Teaching Assistants and School Uniform!
- A non-mover at No. 9 is Parental Involvement, while Assessment for Learning is surprisingly down to 8.
- One-to-One tutoring is a new entry at No. 5, with Early Intervention up one to 4.
- Climbing to No. 3 is Peer Mentoring (children teaching children – they explain it better than teachers sometimes) but the nation’s favourite, a new entry, straight in at No.1, is Effective Feedback!
Meta-cognitive and selfregulation strategies are ranked second in the Sutton Trust Toolkit for their high-impact and low cost, but what are they? Basically it involves teaching pupils study skills such as how to read different texts – skimming, scanning, noting key points – how to make effective notes, as well as debriefing them individually and as a group after a test or exercise, which ties in with the number one strategy of Effective Feedback. Also involved are pupils knowing explicitly what they are meant to be learning, what are the best strategies for that learning and self-evaluating their learning performance, as well as any end product, afterwards.
Thus far, the Pupil Premium does not seem set to make a good return on its investment, at least until the chief recommendations of the Sutton Trust research are more widely adopted, but ultimately it is all about teaching. What worked for me as a FSM pupil was top quality class teaching by encouraging and knowledgeable teachers who had high expectations of me, made my parents aware of my potential and explained, informed, nurtured and motivated. That is a pretty unbeatable formula to raise aspirations and close the attainment gap and, if the PP can bring that about, it will be money well spent.
10 ways to close the gap
1 Ensure all teachers have high
expectations for all pupils,
especially those known to be
eligible for FSM, and be aware of
expected rates of progress
2 Know the vulnerabilities of
all FSM pupils and potential
barriers to learning whilst
regularly reviewing progress by…
3 Assessing and tracking the
progress of pupils known to
be eligible for FSM, and link
tracking data with attendance
and punctuality data and look for
4 Know whether FSM pupils
also fall into other
vulnerable groups, for
example: SEN, EAL
5 Use evidence from data to
make decisions about
6 Make appropriate
modifications to high
quality whole class
teaching, including guided work,
to suit individuals
7 Ensure pupils have
opportunities to apply and
consolidate learning in a
range of contexts in whole class
8 Share with colleagues
successful practice which
raises attainment of
9 Evaluate the impact of the
quality of provisions for FSM
pupils through pupil voice,
work scrutiny and observations
10 Share information
about pupil progress
explain and discuss any
additional provision being
offered and encourage parents
to support their child/ren to
achieve their aspirations