A Pupil Premium Toolkit

Written by: HTU | Published:

Professor Steve Higgins on a toolkit designed to help schools spend their Pupil Premium money as effectively as possible

The link between increased funding and better learning has always been hard to establish. It is all too easy to spend the money in what looks like sensible or effective ways, but without finding any discernible impact on the pupils it aims to help.

The Sutton Trust funded a team of researchers at Durham University to analyse the existing research evidence and produce a Which?-style consumer report to provide advice to help schools plan how to spend the money.

This Pupil Premium Toolkit sets out different approaches to improving learning, assesses the quality of the evidence, identifies how well each approach has worked from research reviews, then includes an estimate of the costs involved.

There are some surprises in the findings. For example, teaching assistants make less of an impact than many schools expect. On average, classes with teaching assistants make the same progress as classes without teaching assistants.

This does not mean that teaching assistants do not have any effect, but it does suggest that it is important to work out how they can best support pupils’ learning as, on average, this does not happen just by them being present in the classroom.

Similarly, with an approach like ability grouping, the effects are most beneficial for high attaining students. FSM pupils are more likely to be in lower sets or groups, and the impact over time on their performance tends to be negative, particularly on their beliefs about themselves as learners and their aspirations.

So schools should think about how they can mitigate the likely detrimental impact, perhaps by significantly reducing the size of lower sets (to about 15) and certainly by increasing the amount of effective feedback in teaching these groups.

The good news is that many of the things that are most effective are relatively inexpensive – improving the quality of feedback to pupils about their learning, or supporting them in planning, monitoring and reviewing their learning (developing their “meta-cognition”) can all be tackled through professional development and professional inquiry, such as by working in small teams to implement strategies and to track the impact of any new initiative.

There are, of course, no guarantees. The toolkit summarises approaches that have been effective in the past, across a range of different schools and used by different teachers with different pupils.

Each school will need to work out what is likely to be most effective for their particular school and pupils, and then monitor the impact to ensure the Pupil Premium is effective in supporting the learning of the disadvantaged students it seeks to help.

The full report can be downloaded from the Sutton Trust (an updated edition of the toolkit will be available during summer 2012).

Read Nick Bannister's in-depth article on how have been spending their Pupil Premium money so far.

• For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.

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