How to spend your Pupil Premium...

Written by: HTU | Published:

The Pupil Premium marked its first anniversary in April. What have primary heads done with the extra cash and is it making a difference? Nick Bannister reports

The Pupil Premium was ushered in a year ago and proclaimed by the government as a major funding boost for poor pupils.

Now standing at £600 allocated to the school for every pupil who receives free school meals (FSM) now or at any time in the previous six years, the premium is now entering a period where interest in its impact is set to intensify.

“As the money and the accountability rises then interest in the premium will rack up,” says Professor Denis Mongon of the Institute of Education. “It’s a cold subject at the moment but it is going to become seriously hot.

“If we have to pick a single biggest issue facing public education service it is not the comparative achievement of our middle and high achievers – our biggest national issue is our lowest third or quarter of attainers. Proportionately these come from economically poor families. This is the issue we really need to tackle.”

For Chris Wheatley, headteacher of Candleby Lane Primary School in Cotgrave, near Nottingham, the Pupil Premium has had a significant, measurable impact already on the 24 per cent of pupils who receive FSM.

“For the first time since I joined this school 10 years ago we have not had any attainment gap,” he says. “I’m putting the results down to our creative use of the funding terms,” he said.

The gap between FSM and non-FSM children at Candleby Lane at key stage 2 was typically eight to 10 per cent, said Mr Wheatley.

“I can’t say that we have cracked the gap yet because this is only one year. We’ll need data over three years to make real claims. But I feel it’s hard to argue. When I came here we had 50 per cent of pupils at Level 4 and none at Level 5. We’ve been chipping away at that over the years. I would say that the Pupil Premium has enhanced that. It’s not sorted it, but it has enhanced it.”

Pupil progress meetings are central to the school’s work with FSM and vulnerable pupils – and for deciding how and where to use premium money. “When I started, accountability for progress was down to headteacher and maybe the assessment co-ordinator, but step-by-step this has widened. Every child is as important to us and responsibility and accountability for progress for children has widened.

“A pupil progress review might involve the assessment co-ordinator, who has the data, the class teacher and teaching assistant, who will look at barriers in the classroom and interventions, the external schools co-ordinator, who will look at the wider opportunities that the child may be able to access, and the Achievement for All co-ordinator.

“They’ll be asking why the child has not made progress, what the child is not doing that he or she should be doing, what opportunities are we missing, and what we can do to reduce and remove any chances of the child falling through the net.

“So now we know things that we did not know previously. We had one child who was massively into the ice-skating television show Dancing on Ice. We managed to get her to the Nottingham Ice Arena to do some sessions – the Pupil Premium helped us to do that. She made two levels of progress in a year. If we hadn’t done what we’d done then she would have become a non-attendee.”

Jo Davies is headteacher at Carr Mill Primary in St Helen’s. The Pupil Premium funding has helped the school continue its long running work to narrow the gap between FSM and non-FSM pupils.

Most of the school’s 244 nursery, infant and junior pupils come from the Clinkham Wood Estate – which Ms Davies describes as a geographically isolated housing estate between St Helen’s and Wigan. Nearly 50 per cent of pupils are eligible for FSM.

“The gaps have been closing at my school across the board,” she said. “Three years ago attainment was poor – 55 per cent of children were achieving Level 4, which was 25 per cent below the national average. We have definitely closed the gap in reading, writing and maths.

“About two and a half years ago we bought into a phonics learning programme but we couldn’t buy as many of the resources as we would have liked. The money has allowed us to buy all the resources we need, and fund two members of staff to work one-to-one with children identified as vulnerable.”

The school has also used the funding to provide disadvantaged pupils with activities during the summer and Easter breaks. Last summer the funding was used to take 10 pupils on a series of trips and visits. The scheme had a real impact, helping some pupils avoid the post-summer holiday attainment dip.

But it is not just about addressing academic attainment for Ms Davies and her team: “A lot of FSM children have family issues and parenting issues,” she explained. “We were confident of meeting needs academically through intervention but not confident that we were meeting the children’s emotional needs. You can’t have strategy that fits the emotional needs for all children so we developed a toolkit with other schools that helps staff address these issues, including bereavement counselling and understanding self-harm.”

The premium has had a knock on for the entire school, Ms Davies added: “Because that money was there it released funds to revamp the curriculum and there was more money for children’s visits of places of cultural interest.”

With new accountability measures being introduced from September, heads will be expected to detail how much Pupil Premium they receive, how they spent it in the previous year and how they plan to spend the cash in the year to come. The plans will give parents a greater say on how the money is spent, says children’s minister Sarah Teather, who is responsible for overseeing the Pupil Premium.

Accounting for Pupil Premium spending does not faze Mr Wheatley: “There has been a sense of permissiveness about the Pupil Premium. This has not been given to us with a direction and it has been quite liberating. But I am a public servant and it is understandable that we are being asked to account for how we are spending the money. I haven’t got a massive issue with that.”

Ms Davies is similarly relaxed, but she does attach a caveat to the accountability measures. “Accountability can’t be so narrow that it looks solely at attainment,” she said. “It needs to take into account other areas such as behaviour, attendance and emotional wellbeing – all those things that have such a big impact.”

See also an article by Professor Steve Higgins about a Pupil Premium Toolkit designed to help schools spend their money as effectively as possible.

• Nick Bannister is an education writer and communications consultant.

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

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