The pupil premium looks as if it may be the new community cohesion, but fortunately not the new safeguarding. Tony Power analyses the effective usage of pupil premiums.

In the November 2012 issue of Schools and Inspection, the Ofsted in-house journal, inspectors were directed to focus on the effective use of pupil premium funding. This has become an increased priority with the publication of the latest Ofsted report, The Pupil Premium: How Schools Are Spending the Funding Successfully to Maximise Achievement, January 2013.

In the foreword, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector states: “Our Section 5 inspection reports will focus much more sharply on how well schools are using their pupil premium money. Where we find funding is not being spent effectively on improving outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, we will be clear in our criticism”.

Evaluating achievement

Before funding is reviewed, inspectors evaluate achievement; the main points from the evaluation schedule in relation to pupil premium are as follows.

  • When judging achievement, inspectors must have regard for pupils’ starting points, age and the progress that the lowest-attaining pupils are making.

  • Inspectors must take account of the learning and progress of different groups of pupils currently on the roll of the school, including disabled pupils, those who have special educational needs, and those for whom the pupil premium provides support.

Inspectors first compare the attainment and progress of “children looked after” or free school meals (FSM) pupils in RAISEonline. If any of the measures are significantly above or below, this is prima facie evidence that the additional funding is or is not being used effectively.

If the results are not significant, inspectors will look for additional evidence. First, the results for pupils such as FSM are not compared to this group nationally, but to all pupils. Second, inspectors do not carry out the investigations themselves.

Schools need to have the evidence ready to hand; in particular, look at results over time; identify anomalies; and look for patterns and trends. Although narrowing the gap with non-FSM pupils is the political imperative, pupil premium funding was only introduced in April 2011; therefore, even Ofsted cannot expect any improvement in results until 2012. The following questions should also be asked.

  • How does the attainment of FSM pupils compare with this group nationally?

  • Is there a gap in the school and, if so, how does it compare to the national gap?

  • Is the gap between FSM pupils in the school and non-FSM pupils nationally, greater or less than the national difference?

If progress is evaluated against priorities in the school improvement plan, the following questions need to be answered.

  • Have actions been completed and have early success criteria been fulfilled?

  • Any plan takes time to implement, but what stage has the school reached?

Improvements in the quality of teaching should be sought; better teaching can quickly accelerate progress, but improvements in attainment take time.

Different types of evidence should be gathered, which demonstrate progress such as pupils’ work — analyse the past, but focus more on the present as extra resources are recent and may only be having an impact now.

Evaluating funding

Schools and Inspection gave the following advice for evaluating funding.

From September 2012, when evaluating a school’s use of the pupil premium, inspectors should consider:

  • whether the funding is targeted at those groups of pupils for whom it is intended

  • the decisions made by schools about how the funding is used

  • how well school leaders are monitoring and evaluating the impact of their pupil premium spending on narrowing the gap for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds

  • how well governing bodies and management committees are holding school leaders to account for their spending of the premium.

This advice was supplemented in Subsidiary Guidance: Supporting the Inspection of Maintained Schools and Academies, published January 2013.

When evaluating the effectiveness of leaders, managers and governors, inspectors should gather evidence about the use of the pupil premium in relation to the following key issues.

  • The level of pupil premium funding received by the school in the current academic year and levels of funding received in previous academic years.

  • How the school has spent the pupil premium and why it has decided to spend it in the way it has.

  • Any differences made to the learning and progress of pupils eligible for the pupil premium as shown by performance data and inspection evidence.

  • In many schools, the number of looked-after children is small and these pupils may not figure in headline performance data. Inspectors should record evidence of the impact of the pupil premium on looked-after children currently on roll in the school on a separate evidence form.

What works?

According to the Ofsted survey, many of the following characteristics are shared by schools that are spending pupil premium funding successfully to improve achievement.

  • Funding is carefully ring-fenced and spent on the target group.

  • Eligibility for the pupil premium is not confused with low ability, but focused on achieving the highest levels.

  • Underachievement and the causes are analysed, particularly in English and Mathematics.

  • Draw on research and other evidence to allocate the funding to activities that are most likely to have an impact on achievement.

  • Ensure 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.

  • Allocate their best teachers to teach intervention groups to improve Mathematics and English, or employ new teachers with a good track record in raising attainment.

  • Use achievement data frequently to check whether interventions or techniques are working and make adjustments instead of using the data retrospectively to see whether something has worked.

  • Make sure support staff are highly trained and understand their role in helping pupils to achieve.

  • Focus on giving pupils clear, useful feedback about their work, and ways they can improve.

  • Designate a senior leader to have a clear overview of how funding is allocated and the difference it is making to outcomes for pupils.

  • Ensure that teachers know which pupils are eligible for the pupil premium so they take responsibility for accelerating their progress.

  • Have a clear policy on spending the pupil premium, agreed by governors and publicised on the school website.

  • Provide well-targeted support to improve attendance, behaviour or links with families where these are barriers to learning.

  • Have a clear and robust performance management system for all staff, and include discussions about pupils eligible for the pupil premium in performance management meetings.

  • Thoroughly involve governors in decision-making and evaluation.

  • Demonstrate, through careful monitoring and evaluation, the impact of each aspect of their spending on the outcomes for pupils.

Where schools were less successful in spending the funding, the following characteristics were noted.

  • There is a lack of clarity about the intended impact.

  • Funding is spent indiscriminately on teaching assistants with little impact.

  • The quality and impact of interventions were not monitored well enough, even where other monitoring is effective.

  • Performance management is weak for teaching assistants and other support staff.

  • No clear audit trail for spending.

  • Planned spending on pupil premium in isolation to other planning.

  • Compare performance to local rather than national data, which can suppress expectations.

  • Compare performance of their FSM pupils with this group nationally, rather than all pupils, again lowering expectations.

  • Do not focus pastoral work on outcomes and do not have evidence to show impact.

  • Governors are not involved in decisions or in challenging the way funds are allocated.

Last reviewed 30 April 2013