Last reviewed 17 September 2013

Jenny Townsend, Director of Townsend Consultancy Ltd, looks at ways in which academies and maintained schools can make effective use of their pupil premium to raise pupils’ achievement.


In 2012, only 68% of 11 year olds who were eligible for the pupil premium achieved their expected levels in English and maths compared with 84% of all other pupils aged 11.

The Government, which wants to close this gap, launched the Primary Assessment and Accountability under the New National Curriculum consultation in July 2013. It sets out ambitious plans aimed at raising standards still further in primary schools by:

  • introducing higher floor standards

  • updating the tests for 11 year olds

  • raising the expectations of what pupils should achieve

  • introducing new systems for assessing pupil performance.

By 2016, the Government wants all primary schools to have at least 85% of their 11 year olds achieving more challenging targets and to be ready for secondary school.

In order to assist schools in reaching these higher standards, the Government has announced a significant increase in the amount of pupil premium funding at primary school level. From 2014, this will be increased from £900 to £1300 for each eligible pupil at primary school.

What do schools think about the pupil premium?

Published in July 2013 by the Department for Education, Evaluation of Pupil Premium: Research Report aims to find out about schools’ perceptions of the pupil premium and how this influences the support subsequently provided for pupils.

When making decisions about what to spend their pupil premium on, the surveyed schools were influenced by:

  • their own experience of what works

  • evidence from other schools

  • academic research.

All the schools involved in the survey used several types of support to help their pupils. They spent the majority of the money on strengthening learning in the curriculum and on the provision of social, emotional and behavioural support. Schools considered these approaches to be very effective. Where primary and secondary schools had higher proportions of pupils having free school meals on their roll, they tended to offer a wider range of support.

Most of the schools had introduced detailed monitoring systems in order to measure the impact of the pupil premium. As well as improvements in attainment, they had also recorded related data about improvements in attendance, levels of confidence and behaviour.

The research found that the majority of the schools were, in fact, spending more than their pupil premium allocation on the support of their disadvantaged pupils. (Very often schools had developed their own classification of disadvantage, which was wider than the official definition used by the Government.) Most of the schools involved expressed positive attitudes towards the pupil premium.

New accountability requirements from Ofsted

During August 2013, Ofsted made extensive changes to the School Inspection Handbook. It states some new requirements regarding the pupil premium, particularly relating to the following areas of inspection.

  • The achievement of pupils.

  • The quality of leadership and management.

The achievement of pupils at the school and the pupil premium

Ofsted inspectors will want to find out more about how schools use their pupil premium funding and what impact it has on achievement.

Inspectors must take account of “the school’s own records of pupils’ progress, including the progress of pupils who attend off-site alternative provision for all or part of the week and the progress of pupils for whom the pupil premium or the Year 7 literacy and numeracy catch-up premium provide support”.

When inspecting pupils’ progress in the last three years, inspectors will want to see evidence of “the proportions making expected progress and the proportions exceeding expected progress in English and in mathematics for each starting point, compared with national figures, for all pupils and for those for whom the pupil premium provides support”.

Inspectors will also want to examine differences in achievement between those pupils for whom the pupil premium provides support compared to other pupils in the school, including:

  • gaps in attainment, in particular in English and maths

  • differences in progress from similar starting points.

Leadership and management and the pupil premium

When making judgments about the quality of leadership and management of the school, Ofsted inspectors will now want to find out how well leaders and managers demonstrate the capacity to bring about further improvement through, for example “a track record of improvements in achievement and/or maintenance of high levels of achievement, with particular reference to how well pupils for whom the pupil premium provides support achieve”.

The Teaching and Learning Toolkit

The Government has funded a website, developed by the Sutton Trust/Education Endowment Foundation, which aims to make available to schools an analysis of various approaches that can be used to help raise attainment. The Teaching and Learning Toolkit contains 33 different approaches and is regularly updated. Each approach has been summarised according to its impact on attainment, the strength of the evidence in support of it, and its cost. This helps schools to make decisions about which approach would be most suitable for their pupils, and what the costs would be.

The Toolkit has been designed for use by professionals in schools, helping them to make decisions that are more evidence-based. The guidance emphasises that the Toolkit should not be regarded as “a substitute for professional judgement”. Context is very important and results will vary according to many different factors: “Crucially, the summaries in the Toolkit combine evidence from a range of different research studies into a single average for each area. This average will not necessarily be the impact of this approach in your school”.

Approaches identified in the Toolkit as being effective

The following interventions have been identified as those with the most robust evidence and with the most relevance to pupils of primary school age.

The use of digital technologies to support learning, in addition to other teaching, can be a useful intervention. For some students, it has helped to increase their levels of motivation.

Early years intervention offers young children either pre-school or nursery experiences that help prepare them for school and academic success.

Effective feedback on learning can take many forms. It can be about the learning activity, the process of the activity, the student’s management of their learning or self-regulation, or (the least effective) about them as individuals. Feedback can be provided verbally or in writing, through tests or by means of ICT. The research suggests that it should be specific, accurate and clear.

The meta-cognition and self-regulation approach requires pupils to set goals, and monitor and evaluate their own learning. This is usually more effective in small groups where learners can support each other and make their thinking explicit through discussion.

The Toolkit defined parental involvement as: “[a]ctively involving parents in supporting their children’s learning at school”. The programmes included parents becoming involved in supporting their children with learning in a range of subjects such as literacy, reading, ICT and mathematics. Although these programmes were seen as having a positive impact on children’s learning, more effective monitoring and evaluation of these approaches are needed.

Peer tutoring is usually done when learners work in pairs or small groups, providing themselves with explicit teaching support. Learners take on responsibility for aspects of teaching and evaluating their success.

For younger readers (4—7 year olds), phonics approaches can be effective when they are embedded in a whole literacy teaching programme. The research carried out by the Education Endowment Foundation found that the use of phonics was less effective with older, less successful readers.

Small group tuition is where intensive tuition in small groups is provided to help support lower attaining learners or those who are falling behind. One-to-one tuition is when one child is supported by one teacher.


Whatever decisions schools make about how to spend their pupil premium funding in the future, the challenges relating to the raising of pupil achievement for their most disadvantaged pupils will continue to be formidable.

Increasingly, schools will be required to demonstrate higher levels of accountability, especially during Ofsted inspections.

Ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the approaches used to raise pupil achievement will continue to play a very significant role in the challenge to drive up standards for all.