14 Mar 2014

The problem with pupil premium

I attended The Key's conference in Birmingham recently. The brilliant Professor Steve Higgins, Durham University, Andrew Morrish, Victoria Park Academy and Dr John Dunford talked about the difference high quality provision makes to outcomes for pupil premiumm groups. So what's the problem? Well, it's the Treasury apparently. They haven't sent out a press release about this, but it was suggested at the conference that if funding doesn't have impact, it's likely to be under close scrutiny. The £2.5 billion allocated to closing the gap for this group, could be withdrawn if it doesn't make enough difference. In the 2014 to 2015 financial year, pupil premium funding will be £1,300 for each eligible primary-aged pupil and £935 for each eligible secondary-aged pupil, funding to support looked-after children will increase to £1,900 And the fact is, in too many schools the gaps are not closing.

What would make a difference? Several things:

  • There needs to be a pupil premium 'champion' at senior leadership level. This leader needs to know the background and achievement of every student who has pupil premium funding. They should be on the case in terms of gathering evidence of impact and sharing this with all colleagues, including the governing body in the school.
  • We need to have conversations about the facts, and they are stark: we know that when they start school many children from poorer backgrounds can be up to 16 months behind their peers in vocabulary: they are less likely to have been read to, heard fewer words spoken and have had a less stimulating environment. By the end of Key Stage 2 68% of pupils eligible for the pupil premium achieved level 4+, compared to 84% of all other pupils. At  KS4 38% students on FSM achieved 5ACEM compared with 66% for all other students. Pupils eligible for FSM are five times more likely to be excluded from primary school (permanently or for a fixed term) than those not eligible.
  • We need to asking why this is the case. These children are just as able and have as much potential as their peers. But they are likely to have less home support for their learning and have more difficulties acquiring basic literacy and numeracy skills.
  • Schools need to think imaginatively about what these students need. We also need to be careful not to stereotype this group: some children have rich home lives, high quality conversations and great experiences. Just little money. They are still entitled to the funding, but it will need to spent differently if they are achieving as well as other children. Obviously literacy and numeracy needs to be addressed where these students are falling behind. Most schools have additional intervention including one to one tuition where necessary. And if these children are less likely to go to an art gallery, see a play or take part in a concert, shouldn't this be part of their entitlement as well?

Since September 2013, Ofsted has given a sharper focus to the performance and progress of pupil premium pupils in their inspections. It is unlikely for a school  be judged ‘outstanding’ if its disadvantaged pupils are not making good progress. Schools will be held to account for:

•the attainment of their disadvantaged pupils
•the progress made by their disadvantaged pupils
•the in-school gap in attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers

And they will also be checking to see how well these students are achieving compared with all students nationally. Because the aim after all, is to close the gap. So the questions they will be considering are:
•What difference is this school making to outcomes for these groups of pupils?
•Is this school closing the gap?
•What is the data telling us?
•What are these students telling us?

How might schools go about sharpening their practice? Well, there's a body of research out there and some great practice in schools. Here's a summary:
• Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit This shows that the highest impact is from feedback and metacognition, so it must make sense to embed these. And I don't mean the cheap tricks of traffic lights, but ongoing high-quality conversations about learning
• The National Foundation for Educational Research on how pupil premium funding is spent
• An excellent interview with Steve Higgins here
• Ofsted's report on how to get the best from the pupil premium and some helpful self-evaluation tools
• How some schools are using the funding effectively. Ofsted's survey of over 60 schools case studies

And finally, my thoughts on this. The best schools are:

  • not confusing eligibility for pupil premium with low ability
  • drawing their own experience and on resources such the Education Endowment Foundation research
  • not relying solely on interventions to improve outcomes, but making sure all students are getting a good deal, every day
  • making sure their best teachers are working with vulnerable groups
  • giving information about pupil premium groups to all teachers so that they can take responsibility for their progress

I hope I'm wrong about the Treasury.









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