How to spend the Pupil Premium

Written by: HTU | Published:

Having increased to £900 in 2013/14, the Pupil Premium is expected to make all the difference to disadvantage in our communities. Suzanne O’Connell speaks to schools about how it is being used, including how Ofsted is reporting its use

If ever there was a magic potion promised to address gaps in attainment in our schools, it is the Pupil Premium. Challenged with questions about disadvantage the recurring answer is that the Pupil Premium will fix it. However, it is having something of a bumpy ride.

The coalition government has strongly resisted the idea of ring-fencing the money. In the spirit of independence and autonomy they want schools to decide how they should use it, as long as it is put to the purpose it was intended. Accountability through Ofsted, the publication of data and the requirement from September to publish information to parents online are all designed to ensure that the Pupil Premium is being put to good use.

However, with Ofsted’s report into the Pupil Premium came the growing realisation that this was not always happening. Ofsted found that many schools had used the Pupil Premium to maintain existing provision rather than finding news ways of supporting pupils who were eligible.

How to use it well

The Sutton Trust funded a team of researchers at Durham University in 2010/11 to analyse the existing research evidence and produce a guide for schools to help them decide how to spend Pupil Premium money. Their findings did not always reflect the way schools were choosing to use it.

In Ofsted’s Pupil Premium report, using the money for staffing purposes was, by far, the most popular type of expenditure. These members of staff were delivering a range of support including one-to-one and small group tuition and, more often than not, were teaching assistants.

In the Sutton Trust’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, the use of teaching assistants was rated as having very low impact for high cost.

The top three strategies listed in the Toolkit were providing effective feedback, meta-cognition (helping pupils think about their own learning) and peer-tutoring.

These low-cost strategies might not necessarily be reflected in your Pupil Premium spending. Those approaches that are lower down the table and more expensive might, in fact, be the best method of making Pupil Premium money work for you. Headteacher Update spoke to two schools which have been complimented by Ofsted on their allocation of the Pupil Premium.

Case study 1
School: Crookhill Community Primary, Tyne and Wear
Headteacher: Kristine McCormack
Level of Pupil Premium: Above the national average
Overall effectiveness: Good
Key Ofsted findings: The school’s leaders make very effective use of additional funding for pupils known to be eligible for the Pupil Premium. Pupils supported through the Pupil Premium funding make outstanding progress to achieve in line with similar pupils nationally.

Crookhill Primary has a very mixed catchment with many vulnerable families and head Kristine McCormack feels that circumstances are getting worse: “We’re finding that an increasing number of pupils are on free school meals (FSM) as unemployment rises and families are struggling.”

As part of the new inspection, Ms McCormack was asked at the beginning of the second day about her use of the Pupil Premium: “We’ve always tracked our FSM and looked-after children separately and had already spotted that there was a group of pupils in key stage 2 whose progress was poor and that most of these pupils were those entitled to FSM.”

Ms McCormack had the evidence to show inspectors how they had targeted the pupils and what they had done to address the gap.

“We employed an experienced, part-time teacher to work with targeted children either as one-to-one or in a group. We had a very good higher level teaching assistant (HLTA) but I made the decision that it would be better if we could have a qualified teacher. This left our HLTA to take on other roles around the school.”

The targeted pupils still work towards the lesson objectives along with other members of the class, but the additional teacher enables very focused support to ensure that they achieve the objectives and can move on competently with the rest. In some cases this means continuing to work with the children in the afternoon to help them catch up.

Crookhill applies a very evaluative approach to all their intervention programmes. Ms McCormack explained: “We look closely at how effective programmes are during our pupil progress meetings. For example, we found that Springboard wasn’t of great benefit but that ALS (Additional Literacy Support) and the booster materials ‘Overcoming Barriers’ were working well.”

In addition to the appointment of a part-time teacher for support, the Pupil Premium is also spent on training. Ms McCormack makes sure that where teaching assistants are used they are well-equipped to get the most out of the interventions. “Our teaching assistants are closely involved in the school improvement agenda. When we developed our assessment and tracking procedures we made sure that every teaching assistant was familiar with what the different levels look like.”

The teaching assistants also work closely with teachers to identify and plan the next steps, and along with high quality CPD it improves their ability to provide effective intervention such as ALS and 1st class@number.

Case study 2
School: Amesbury Church of England Primary School, Salisbury
Headteacher: Yvonne Harris
Level of Pupil Premium: 51 per cent (above average).
Overall effectiveness: Good
Key Ofsted findings: A nurture group, funded by the Pupil Premium, skilfully supports those pupils whose circumstances might make then vulnerable. Groups of pupils, including those eligible for the Pupil Premium, are now making better progress than expected.

Amesbury School is growing rapidly. The local area has seen an increase in housing and the number of service families. Numbers have grown from 205 children in 2010 to 280 in 2012 and are anticipated to increase even more.

However, the school has had its difficulties. Until Yvonne Harris took over it had had 10 headteachers in six years. She explained: “At the time I arrived there were 10 key children who needed support with their social and emotional learning. We looked around for appropriate strategies and came across the work of Marjorie Boxhall and nurture groups.”

They decided that this would be a good way of spending their Pupil Premium money. Ms Harris and her staff set up the nurture room in a mobile classroom. She continued: “We felt that these children were not in a position for learning and needed something else. The group is heavily geared towards the children’s social and emotional needs. It’s very much a hands-on approach based around social and emotional literacy.”

It is not only the nurture room that is funded through the Pupil Premium. Ms Harris has employed an experienced teacher to work on the Numbers Count programme with targeted children: “She works with 12 children intensely during the year. She also helps train teaching assistants to make sure they have the knowledge to follow points up in class.”

Ms Harris places great emphasis upon training and development for all members of staff, including teaching assistants. There is a lot of in-house training as well as staff involvement in external CPD opportunities such as degree and NVQ programmes and speech and language training.

Ms Harris feels that the inspection was a positive process: “The team was fair and could see clearly how we spent the Pupil Premium. They did a paper trail, selecting pupils themselves who are classed as vulnerable to find out how we are supporting them. Each classroom has a grid which identifies who our targeted children are. This helps us to make sure that they are receiving something extra.”


From the experiences at Crookhill and Amesbury, spending on additional staff has worked well. However, it has been very clearly focused and there can be no doubt about each individual’s role within the school.

Training at both schools is a priority and this extends throughout the workforce. The appointment of an experienced teacher is a common factor in both cases and these members of staff work to support the teaching assistants too. In the end, however, it is still the results and the progress made by disadvantaged pupils as demonstrated by the data that will satisfy inspectors most that the Pupil Premium is doing its job.

Further information

• The Pupil Premium: How schools are using the Pupil Premium funding to raise achievement for disadvantaged pupils, Ofsted (2012):

• The Sutton Trust Teaching and Learning Toolkit:

• Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance education writer and a former primary school headteacher.

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

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