Pupil Premium: Ensuring successful outcomes

Written by: HTU | Published:

Headteacher Update’s inaugural Pupil Premium and Ofsted conference – Ensuring Successful Outcomes – took place in Birmingham last month. Sal McKeown looks at what advice the experts and school-based case studies on show had to offer.

The Pupil Premium can be a great source of anxiety. While dealing with the most vulnerable and underachieving pupils, primary schools must produce and evidence good results.

Furthermore, the funding for Pupil Premium is a big commitment by government and now schools have to deliver. This was the message from Dr John Dunford, the national Pupil Premium champion, who was speaking in his keynote address at the Pupil Premium and Ofsted – Ensuring Successful Outcomes Conference. He emphasised to delegates: “You have complete autonomy on how you spend this money but you are accountable.”

The conference, held at Maple House in Birmingham in March, was organised by Headteacher Update and sister magazine SecEd and set out to help schools develop a more strategic approach to the Pupil Premium and get an insight into initiatives and examples of good practice from other schools.

Regardless of the educational setting, whether in the UK or abroad, students from a privileged background tend to do well because they have a wider range of experiences and more resources. Furthermore, statistics show that the gap between these children and those entitled to free school meals (FSM) widens as children get older.

Generally the big city authorities do better than others (see panel on page 15). The gap is smaller in Newham and Birmingham than in Hampshire or Surrey or Southend. More Pupil Premium children get Level 4 in Camden and Birmingham than in Northamptonshire. More Pupil Premium children get five GCSEs A* to C including English and maths in Tower Hamlets and Birmingham than in Hampshire.

A focus on SEN

Garry Freeman, director of inclusion and SENCO at Guiseley School in Leeds, presented a workshop on behalf of nasen, a national organisation representing SENCOs across all sectors.

He reminded the audience of the vast range of vulnerable groups they might come across in the average school. Not only would they need to cater for children with special needs and from low-income backgrounds, but also many schools would have looked-after children, service children or pupils who were young carers. They might also have Gypsy Roma and Traveller children, asylum-seekers, and children who had recently arrived in the UK from war zones and whose lives were in turmoil.

Mr Freeman also discussed nasen’s Every Teacher campaign, which is committed to Quality First teaching. Nasen argues that every teacher is responsible for every pupil in their class and is accountable for every pupil’s progress. 

In the past a child who was struggling might have had individual tuition or the services of a teaching assistant. However, research compiled by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) as part of its Pupil Premium Toolkit, has shown that teaching assistants are an expensive option for which it can sometimes be hard to quantify effectiveness. But instead of “Velcroing” a teaching assistant to an individual pupil, it might be more efficacious to organise small groups which bring together the Pupil Premium pupils and others that the school is worried about but who may not be eligible for the funding.

It should also be added that earlier this year, new research was published by the EEF showing that teaching assistants can have an impact when used with small groups and in a targeted way. More research is currently on-going (see further information for links to this and the Pupil Premium Toolkit).


All the speakers were agreed that schools must plan and show a demonstrable benefit to disadvantaged pupils and the school community as a whole. 

Robbie Coleman, research and communications manager at the EEF, told delegates that the average Pupil Premium funding for 2013/14 was £57,000 for a primary school.

He suggested schools should identify priorities and focus on one issue at a time. While there could be a number of possible solutions, schools needed to take into account results, costs and effort. 

Any school that needs help in gathering and evaluating data can turn to the National Foundation for Educational Research, which has a series of How To guides. Some of the most useful for primary schools will be How to Plan Your Research and How to Run Action Research. On show at the event, the guides are short and jargon-free, designed for people who are not necessarily confident or experienced researchers.

Schools need to create a good audit trail and build data sets. They have to show that they can collect data, analyse it, act on it and put strategies in place. 

Those looking for help with different ways of tracking and presenting data might benefit from the services of another exhibitor, LCP. Their product TRACK Primary is an online pupil assessment service that lets schools track and report on all vulnerable groups.

Some schools might also benefit from the services of Achievement for All (AfA) which can help schools plan for the new Code of Practice. Any school, regardless of whether or not it is registered with AfA, can sign up for a Pupil Premium Practice Review which would give them four weeks of support for £1,250 if they are an AfA school and £1,500 if not. The review looks at current activities, provides recommendations and planning help, and shows how progress can be recorded and evidenced so it links Pupil Premium funding with pupil outcomes.

Pupil experiences

We have a moral duty to ensure that each child is able to develop and discover says Bruce Waeland, headteacher at St James Primary School Emsworth, Hampshire. While others talked about data and evidence, he focused on the pupil experience.

He told delegates: “We want children who are engaged and happy because if they flourish in one thing, it will raise their performance in other areas.”

Feedback was a key element in his school: “Mistakes can be a doorway to discovery while a page of ticks just shows that children are not being challenged.”

While it is advisable to talk to Ofsted inspectors about the processes needed to assess and support Pupil Premium children, Mr Waeland was adamant that all staff should be able to talk about the impact on the children. He advised schools to have specific children in mind that they can discuss with confidence.

He also recommends looking at different ways of tracking data to show the progress and attainment of Pupil Premium children in the most favourable light. 

“There is a huge number of ways of showing progress,” he said. “While the figures will be similar, it is amazing how using different time-spans, progress measures, or success criteria make a striking difference in the appearance of the raw data.”

What does success look like?

While schools are all very different, it emerged at the conference that there are certain key characteristics which are seen in successful schools which do well by their Pupil Premium children. 

Good schools have ring-fenced Pupil Premium funding and use evidence to allocate funding to big impact strategies. They regularly refer back to achievement data to refine decisions and make sure that interventions are effective. 

They have a senior leader responsible for Pupil Premium. This is not just an additional duty for an overworked member of the team. This person must communicate with governors and be able to identify and demonstrate impact

Teachers know which pupils are eligible for Pupil Premium and have a very positive view of this group. Far from writing them off, they maintain high expectations. Support staff are highly trained and often have specific responsibilities across the school rather than being attached to a particular pupil or one class. The best schools look at the wider curriculum, thinking about the skills and knowledge a child needs in the 21st century. 

One of the exhibitors Future First helps schools develop an alumni community of former pupils to act as mentors or help with careers advice. This is an effective way of raising expectations as children can identify with adults who have grown up in their community.

Seek out excellent practice in other schools

The speakers and workshop leaders were all agreed that schools need to gather information from others. Dr Dunford suggested schools should use the National College’s Closing the Gap Index and the EEF Pupil Premium Toolkit and seek out local, regional, national and international evidence.

The school’s management team should also encourage staff to build professional networks. While headteachers have good networks and SENCOs get support and information from Senco Forum and nasen, there is less support for Pupil Premium so it would be good to start local networks.

Dr Dunford added: “It is for schools to decide how to use Pupil Premium. Since 1998 we have been told in mind-numbing detail what to do and how to do it. The government is giving you the money and the freedom to use it as you see fit. It is important to find the right solution for your school because you will be held to account.” 

The Pupil Premium in numbers

The gap in 2013: Level 4 attainment at age 11: 19 per cent gap (60 to 79 per cent); Five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths at age 16: 27 per cent gap (38 to 65 per cent)

Examples of attainment of Pupil Premium pupils: Level 4: Camden 79 per cent, Birmingham 66 per cent, Northamptonshire 54 per cent. GCSE: Tower Hamlets 63 per cent, Birmingham 49 per cent, Southampton 41 per cent, Hampshire 31 per cent.

Additional per-pupil finding for Pupil Premium

  • 2011/12: £488 per pupil
  • 2012/13: £623 per pupil
  • 2013/14: £900 per pupil (plus £53 for primary)
  • 2014/15: £935 (secondary), £1,300 (primary), £1,900 (looked-after and adopted children)

Total Pupil Premium funding

  • 2011/12: £625 million
  • 2012/13: £1.25 billion
  • 2013/14: £1.875 billion
  • 2014/15: £2.5 billion


  • Sal McKeown is a freelance education writer.

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