MPs call for expanded Pupil Premium to boost social mobility

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Coldspots: Blackpool has been identified as a government Opportunity Area and social mobility coldspot, but it is not a simple North-South divide. Other coldspots are found in rural or coastal areas, such as Norfolk and Hastings (Image: Adobe Stock)

A cross-party report from MPs recommends a ‘Social Mobility Premium’ to address regional attainment gaps and foster school-to-school collaboration. Pete Henshaw takes a look

The Pupil Premium should be repurposed into a Social Mobility Premium in order to help better tackle regional attainment gaps and increase school-to-school collaboration.

The recommendation comes from a cross-party group of MPs, who say that the gap in school exam results between poor pupils and their peers is a leading factor creating and entrenching social mobility “coldspots” across the country.

In a report published last week, the MPs raise their concerns that while government austerity-related policies have had an impact on social mobility, especially with cuts to support services, there “remain questions” around whether schools are using their Pupil Premium funding effectively.

The Pupil Premium was introduced in 2011 and yields £935 per secondary pupil and £1,320 per primary pupil, as well as £2,300 for looked after children.

However, despite the funding, the attainment gap has remained stubbornly difficult to close. Disadvantaged pupils in England score on average around half a grade less than their peers at GCSE, and the MPs – who sit on the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Social Mobility – said that within this, there exists significant social mobility “coldspots”.

For example, while poor pupils in London perform about the same as the national average for all students and have better opportunities for social mobility, poor pupils in the North East have the lowest scores. But it’s not just a North-South divide – the MPs said that these regional gaps were leading to social mobility coldspots in areas like Norfolk Somerset and Blackpool.

The report states: “Despite the conventional narrative, the geographical social mobility divide is not just between the North of the country and the South, but in fact one characterised by pockets of deprivation across the country as a whole. Coastal and rural areas are also seen as parts of the country that are struggling with social mobility.”

The government’s answer to the problem of social mobility thus far has been its Opportunity Areas initiative, which saw 12 geographical areas of the country identified in order to focus local and national resources on increasing social mobility.

School-to-school collaboration and “a sense of place” are identified in the MPs report as being important factors for success and something that is being shown to work through the Opportunity Areas scheme.

The report calls for a repurposed Social Mobility Premium which would be able to offer incentives for collaboration between schools and for CPD for teachers in challenging schools.

It states: “The government should incentivise school collaboration by repurposing the Pupil Premium into a new Social Mobility Premium which schools and senior leaders can use on initiatives to improve social mobility in deprived schools and coldspot areas. For example, this could be used on teacher recruitment and retention in specific subject shortage areas, CPD for teachers, mentoring and peer-to-peer support.”

The report adds: “A sense of place is something coming through in the Opportunity Areas – this local buy-in is important and allows areas to interpret and shape national policy in a way that works for them. While there are pockets of local collaboration across the country, sharing best practice consistently and widely is more challenging. Facilitating the sharing of best practice is key to local improvement.”

MPs also call on schools to focus their Pupil Premium efforts, first and foremost, on high quality teaching. The early years must be a priority too, they say, with a focus on literacy and vocabulary (the report warns that children with poor vocabulary aged five are twice as likely to be unemployed by age 34), as well as ringfenced funding for children’s centres.

Justin Madders, MP for Ellesmere Port and chair of the APPG on Social Mobility, said: “Social background and geography are still huge influences on educational success and it will require a combination of big picture thinking and local understanding to change that.

“Each area has its own challenges so we would like to see more focus on local collaboration between schools, local authorities and universities, harnessing the successes of the London Challenge, and with a focus on social mobility coldspots.

“But equally, we need to see policy change at a national level, such as repurposing the Pupil Premium into a new ‘Social Mobility Premium’. This would send a strong signal that there is government determination, backed by resources, to deliver real improvements in social mobility.”


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