The White Paper endorses the pupil premium. However, bridging the disadvantage gap is not proving to be so easy. Suzanne O’Connell considers where we are with the strategy and if the pupil premium review can make a difference.

The Government White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere makes it clear that the pupil premium is here to stay. One of the paper’s seven main elements states that “the right resources are in the right hands: investing every penny where it can do the most good”.

Since September 2016, schools have been required to publish their pupil premium strategy online. This must include:

  • how the school intends to spend its allocation to address barriers to learning

  • the rationale behind the school’s decision.

The payment details of pupil premium during the 2016–2017 year have now been announced. Ever 6 FSM pupils in year groups reception to year 6 will receive £1320 per pupil and pupils in years 7 to 11 will receive £935. Looked-after children and those who have been adopted will be entitled to £1900. Service children from reception to year 11 will receive £300.

Introduced in 2011, the Spending Review in November 2015 confirmed the manifesto commitment to protect the pupil premium for the rest of this Parliament. However, the Government is aware that the pupil premium is perhaps not initially providing the return that was hoped for and the pupil premium review process is hoped to spread good practice.

Is it working?

What perhaps the pupil premium has successfully done is to channel attention on this most disadvantaged group. The National Audit Office (NAO) and Public Accounts Committee did conclude that school leaders’ focus on improving outcomes for disadvantaged pupils had increased.

However, there are concerns that the pupil premium has become such a core part of some schools’ budgets that it is simply replacing money lost elsewhere rather than providing additional money for the group it was designed for.

NAO applause for the strategy is muted, “there is some evidence that the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has started to narrow”. This is not a whole-hearted endorsement of what is a very costly strategy. The Audit office suggests that, “As the impact of the Pupil Premium will take a long time to be fully realised, the Department needs to do more to demonstrate its emerging benefits in the meantime.”

The importance of evidence

However, uncertain the evidence of its effectiveness might be, the Government is committed to the pupil premium and to ensuring that schools are using it well. As such, the White Paper reminds us that the pupil premium “should be used to raise standards for all disadvantaged pupils and schools should be able to demonstrate its impact in a clear and robust way”. One of the Government’s pledges is that it will:

“Improve the effectiveness of pupil premium spending by encouraging schools to adopt evidence-based strategies, drawing on evidence from the EEF.”

Currently identified in the NFER report, Supporting the Attainment of Disadvantaged Pupils are the seven building blocks of success that categorise what successful schools do to make the most of their pupil premium. These include the following.

  1. Maintain a whole-school ethos of attainment for all.

  2. Ensure that behaviour and attendance are good.

  3. Ensure that there is high-quality teaching for all.

  4. Meet individual learning needs.

  5. Deploy staff effectively.

  6. Respond to evidence and use data.

  7. Provide clear and responsive leadership.

However, have schools not already been doing this? The NAO commented that 64% of school leaders are now using the EEF toolkit to inform their decisions about how to spend their pupil premium. The vast majority of schools are aware of the need to demonstrate evidence of the effectiveness of how they spend this money.

There are a number of anomalies that need further investigation, as the NAO points out. Not all disadvantaged children do less well than their peers. Chinese children, in particular, appear not to be affected by disadvantage in their attainment, while some groups, such as those in rural and coastal areas disproportionally are. The NAO identifies parental engagement as one of the main barriers and yet many schools do not use their pupil premium money to address this.

In an attempt to raise the level of effectiveness of pupil premium spending, the Department for Education (DfE) is encouraging schools, whether recently inspected or not, to conduct a pupil premium review.

The pupil premium review

Effective Pupil Premium Reviews is a guide published by the Teaching Schools Council with the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL). The guide intends to help all schools achieve the results of the most effective when it comes to using their pupil premium money.

The guide presents a six-step framework for the implementation of the review.

  1. Planning and preparation — the reviewer researches the school’s PP strategy, school data and Ofsted reports during a half day.

  2. Self-evaluation by the school — prior to the reviewer coming into the school.

  3. School visit — the reviewer visits the school and speaks with key people including pupils and parents.

  4. Analysis and challenge — the reviewer completes a more detailed analysis focusing on what is going well and what could be better.

  5. Action plan — the reviewer draws up an action plan that includes clear milestones and success criteria.

  6. Follow-up visit — this takes place approximately two to six months later.

The reviewer can be selected from an online directory produced by the NCTL and schools can contact them directly. The school must pay for the review and a reviewer can cost anything from £300 to £500.

During their visit, the reviewer will ask the following.

  • Is there clarity around the barriers to learning, desired outcomes and success criteria?

  • Has there been an evaluation of the current strategy?

  • How well have the approaches been implemented?

  • Could better approaches be used?

At the follow-up visit, the reviewer and school will evaluate the progress made and the emerging impact.

It is possible for a school that has identified the need themselves to carry out their own review. There are some useful pro formas and templates in the guidance and clusters of schools might swap personnel to help each other consider the evidence objectively.

Who should complete a review?

There are three categories of schools that might benefit from completing a pupil premium review.

  1. Schools advised to do one following an Ofsted inspection.

  2. Schools advised to do one following the recommendation of the LA, DfE or the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) or school improvement partner.

  3. Schools that feel the need to improve their use of pupil premium as identified through their own self-evaluation.

At this stage, the overall effectiveness of the pupil premium as a means of breaching the divide is in doubt. The DfE must hope that the more widespread use of the pupil premium review will banish any uncertainty as to the effectiveness of this strategy.

In the meantime, schools must be able to demonstrate a thoughtful application of the strategy. Whether this is through a formal review or through the school’s own evaluation, will depend on the school’s current performance. Many people remain unconvinced of the pupil premium’s capacity to make things right for the disadvantaged. In spite of this, schools must show that they are doing everything they can.

More information

  • Funding for Disadvantaged Pupils: Third Report of Session 2015–16, 14 September 2015

  • Effective Pupil Premium Reviews: A Guide Developed by the Teaching Schools Council, NCTL

  • Supporting the Attainment of Disadvantaged Pupils: Articulating Success and Good Practice: Research Report, November 2015

Last reviewed 12 September 2016