Narrowing the gap

Written by: Helen Frostick | Published:

Successfully narrowing the gap for Pupil Premium pupils is the key priority for all schools. Headteacher Helen Frostick offers some ideas and advice by asking six key questions for school leaders

In the interim report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility in May 2012, entitled Seven Key Truths about Social Mobility, it was emphasised once again that the key to breaking the cycle of disadvantage was through education.

And schools have long been using the The Sutton Trust/Education Endowment Fund's Teaching and Learning Toolkit. This considers the effectiveness and impact of a number of strategies on offer in many schools that can narrow the gap for disadvantaged pupils at low, medium and high cost to the school.

Recently invited to an event organised by the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames and Richmond Borough, as a result of being one of the schools successful in securing relatively high attainment for Pupil Premium pupils, I was able to discuss with other headteachers which programmes in our own schools seemed to be having a high impact and making the difference for our most vulnerable, disadvantaged pupils. The feedback from the headteachers can be broken down under six different headings that also form six important questions for schools to ask themselves.

Question one: What do headteachers and senior leaders do in school to ensure that Pupil Premium children attain well?

A key feature of good practice was the fact that all the schools analysed data in great detail and include every child in the tracking and trailing system.

The successful schools also isolate the Pupil Premium pupils as a group and keep them high profile, comparing the outcomes for Pupil Premium pupils internally, locally and nationally.
The schools ensure that the handover meetings between teachers are robust regarding the needs of the Pupil Premium pupils. In addition, detailed provision mapping takes place termly, whereby additional adults are moved around the school and redeployed as required to lead on interventions for all pupils, including Pupil Premium pupils.

The "softer" approaches include getting to know the Pupil Premium pupils very well, their background and their interests.

Question two: Is it possible to identify how headteachers and senior leaders nurture a culture of high expectations, ambition and high self-esteem among staff, parents and children?

What the schools all had in common was a clear mission statement as to their core purpose. This was published on websites, in school entrances and across all policies. High expectations and excellence for all was at the heart of these statements. The headteachers set the bar high for their schools and lead by example, rewarding excellent practice when deserved.

They also prioritised discovering the individual talents of all to celebrate, including the staff and parents, and opportunities to share these talents. One example was where a school had identified in a Pupil Premium child a passion for all things technical and this child was awarded the honour of being the lighting engineer for the infant nativity plays. This opportunity to shine increased the child's confidence and self-esteem in general.

All schools used assemblies and PSHE lessons to revisit the core purpose and mission statement of the school.

Question three: Is it possible to identify examples of how the headteacher and senior leaders model this culture on a daily basis?

What the schools had in common was a visible commitment to valuing every child, while promoting and mirroring the core values of the school – on a daily basis where possible. Strategic plans keep the mission of the school central and at the heart of all developments.
The schools build a culture which echoes the loving, nurturing guidance of the family and school leaders run the whole-school community along these lines.

Key to their success was the close relationships with parents; relationships of trust and mutual respect. They built trust with harder to reach parents by devoting dedicated time to reach a deeper level of understanding of their needs. At the same time, the schools created a welcoming, non-threatening environment in which to meet with them. The headteachers and senior staff ensure that they are sensitive to the needs of the most vulnerable and are role-models ("do as I do, not do as I say").

Question four: How is provision, teaching and additional support adapted to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children?

Headteachers agree that one of the most effective programmes for narrowing the gap was individual one-to-one tuition for Pupil Premium and other vulnerable pupils. These classes took place before or after school and were run by teaching staff who, in the majority of cases, were paid to undertake this work.

Also, in the most successful schools, staff use every spare minute available for one-to-one boosting, including assembly time. Intervention programmes were kept short and often volunteer help, such as parents, are used in structured ways, such as for reading workshops. Pupil Premium pupils are assigned to support staff as well as teachers.

This all then feeds in to performance management objectives under the pupil progress target for all staff. The strengths of individual members of staff are also identified and utilised appropriately.

Question five: How do you ensure that Pupil Premium pupils access the curriculum fully?

In the vast majority of schools the extra-curricular activities, educational visits, residential trips and additional extras are paid for by the school. Many generous PTAs have funds set aside to support the most vulnerable families.

Schools also researched bursaries and charities that support the most vulnerable pupils and applied for funds on the families' behalf. This is in addition to the Pupil Premium which most schools use to fund staffing costs – seen to be the most high impact measure for narrowing the gap.

Question six: What strategies are successful in engaging parents who may be more difficult to engage in supporting their children's education?

The most effective schools seek information about families form early years providers before the children even start school. The SENCO constantly prioritises meetings with parents of Pupil Premium children. Attendance is also a key focus, with pupils on daily phone call lists as required should attendance be a cause for concern and a barrier to the children achieving their full potential.

A final point about governors

Finally, the importance of the governing body in holding the school to account for appropriate and effective use of the Pupil Premium grant is of paramount importance. Many headteachers report termly to governors as to the use and impact of Pupil Premium funds on the pupils' outcomes. This is exemplary practice and crucial if education is to successfully challenge the life chances of the most vulnerable.

  • Helen Frostick is the headteacher of St Mary Magdalen's Catholic Primary School in south London and a National Leader of Education.

Pupil Premium Conference

Helen Frostick will host a workshop at the forthcoming Headteacher Update Pupil Premium and Ofsted Conference. Taking place on March 13, the event also features an in-depth session with Pupil Premium champion Sir John Dunford. Visit

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