The right strategies come at a Premium….

The government says it wants every child to benefit from a good education, regardless of their background.

To this very end, the last coalition government invested a huge amount of money (and political reputation) on the pupil premium – an attempt to close the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and everyone else. Two million children between the age of five and 16 qualified for the extra money, out of seven million school-aged children.

To this very end, the last coalition government invested a huge amount of money (and political reputation) on the pupil premium – an attempt to close the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and everyone else. Two million children between the age of five and 16 qualified for the extra money, out of seven million school-aged children.

But according to a report from the National Audit Office, this spend has yet to make an impact. The NAO says although school leaders are now focusing on improving outcomes for poorer children, the educational gap between poor and wealthier children has changed little. This makes uncomfortable reading for school leaders who are still struggling to balance the books and are now additionally being required by Ofsted to evidence how effectively they are spending their PP funding.

As with all things, headline facts are one thing, but the hidden picture is another… Although £2.5bn was given to schools in 2014-15 as pupil premium funding, in some of the poorest schools income has actually fallen 5% in the past three years – some schools in the most disadvantaged areas are actually worse off because of cuts in other areas of their budget.

And between September and December 2014, Ofsted found “poor provision” for disadvantaged pupils in 8% of primary schools and a fifth of secondary schools.  Now the NAO is calling for a review of the way money is calculated for disadvantaged children – saying not all of them are being identified for the extra funding – but saying the impact of the pupil premium is also reduced because it is often not being spent effectively.

What does all this mean for school leaders? It means, that in a climate in which money is scarce and likely to get scarcer, and in which scrutiny of and accountability for their spending choices is going to increase, choosing the right ways of spending PP funding is now critical to their success.

The Sutton Trust, the UK-based foundation set up in 1997 to improve social mobility through education, published its report on Pupil Premium in July.

http://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Pupil-Premium-Summit-Report-FINAL-EDIT.pdf

It gives an excellent overview for school leaders. The report is informed by research trials run by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) which are feeding into a Teaching and Learning Toolkit, initially published by the Sutton Trust and now hosted and developed by the EEF. The toolkit is available to schools to help them discover what works and what is likely to be most cost-effective way of improving the results of their pupil premium recipients.

Currently, schools’ clear favourites for this are early intervention schemes, one-to-one tuition and employing extra teachers or teaching assistants.

Measuring the effectiveness of these measures is complicated, which is where the toolkit comes in… To give an example: The NAO estimates schools spent an extra  £430m on teaching assistants since the introduction of the fund, and calls this a “high-cost approach”, and the Sutton Trust’s own research headlined that teaching assistants, on average, didn’t have any measurable impact on pupils’ progress. Some school heads took this at face value, prompting them to question whether they should employ teaching assistants at all. But a more thorough reading of the toolkit evidence pointed to the need for better deployment, preparation and management of the assistants – not their exclusion from the education mix. Put crudely, it was not ‘bums on seats’ which were needed but well-managed, high quality, appropriately-deployed ‘bums’, who were part of a carefully-formulated strategy for improvement.

The Department for Education, Ofsted and headteachers’ associations are all urging schools to use evidence of what works when spending their pupil premium, and schools are bracing themselves for more upheaval and uncertainty as the landscape for assessment, accountability and attainment undergo major reform again, while budgets continue to shrink.

It’s definitely time to reach for the EEF toolkit.

And with the average PP allocation running at £91,000 for a primary and £220,000 for a secondary, it’s time to find staff providers who’ll do more for their schools than just unthinkingly churn out extra bums to occupy vacant seats, while they scoop up all this PP lolly.