It already seems like a lifetime ago when Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg and David Laws persuaded the coalition administration to adopt a measure to close the attainment gap for disadvantaged children – Pupil Premium (PP) Funding. Very quickly, this became an important topic for both primary and secondary schools – one that seems set to continue with the new Conservative government. Broadly, funding in England is provided for pupils who are recorded as having claimed Free School Meals (FSM) at any point in the last 6 years (FSM6) on the national school census.1 In Wales, funding is based upon pupils recorded as FSM in the most recent school census data.
Most responses to the introduction of PP funding have been positive with a significant majority of schools saying they would not be able to do as much for disadvantaged pupils without the pupil premium.2 Less positive was a report from think-tank Demos3 which suggested that the national attainment divide, when measured by achievement in five A*-C grades (including English and maths), had in fact widened. Trouble is, one of the problems with 'closing the gap' is how you determine where the gap is! Which is why, earlier this year, the government proposed a new measure – the Attainment Gap Index.4 This draws on a full distribution of grades, rather than the traditional 5A*-C measure.
At the school level, understanding the gap is getting increasingly complicated. In an educational world without levels, new GCSEs, and Progress 8 and Attainment 8 measures, school-level comparisons are harder to gauge. Services such as FFT Aspire, which replaces the well-known FFT Live, may help you to do this by providing data analysis tools for different groups of pupils and against both old and new accountability measures.5
How you spend PP funding is up to you. There is no national PP strategy to follow and no detailed prescription on how you use the money to suit the needs of your pupils. But, inevitably, additional freedom brings with it additional accountability. The new inspection framework for 2015 requires inspectors to not only evaluate "differences made to the learning and progress of disadvantaged pupils" but also to judge "how the school has spent the pupil premium and why it has decided to spend it in the way it has".6 This could be a concern for your school if you are one of the two-thirds of schools that do not look at the research evidence on the impact of different approaches and programmes.7
Fortunately, we are seeing the development of free services that provide an evidence base to help schools plan and justify, with credibility, its planned PP interventions. One such service is the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).8 Led by The Sutton Trust, EEF's 'Teaching and Learning Toolkit' provides an easy-to-use summary of educational research with the aim of providing "guidance for teachers and schools on how to use their resources to improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils." EEF also provides a 'Families of Schools' database that puts you in a family of 50 similar schools – in effect, your statistical neighbours.9 It's a means for schools that face similar challenges to learn from each other as they work to close the attainment gap with PP funding. Elsewhere, the national 'Pupil Premium Awards'10 scheme provides a useful evidence base of effective interventions that may enable you to replicate and adapt what award winning schools are doing.
Although there is no national PP strategy, there is a national PP champion – in the form of John Dunford. As the end of the 2014-15 academic year draws to a close and 2015-16 beckons, there is no better place to start in considering your PP funding plans that to visit his blog and in particular his 'Ten-point plan for spending the pupil premium successfully'.11 Maybe worth printing out and packing for holiday, just in case the latest Katie Fforde or that airport blockbuster fails to live up to its promise. Happy PP reading!
More Useful Reading
- Funding is also available for pupils in care who have been continuously looked after (LAC) for six months, and, via the Service Child Premium, for children of Armed Forces personnel. The introduction of PP for early years brings greater complexity in eligibility rules: https://www.gov.uk/early-years-pupil-premium-guide-for-local-authorities
- The Families of Schools database currently contains only secondary schools. EEF says, "Primary schools will be added later in 2015, along with additional tools to help teachers and school leaders apply evidence in context."