Pupil Premium: Narrowing the gaps

Written by: Jo Corrigan | Published:
Image: iStock

The recent Pupil Premium Awards saw a range of schools from across the country recognised for their work in closing the gap for disadvantaged pupils. Jo Corrigan looks at the approaches of two finalists

The recent 2016 Pupil Premium Awards shone a spotlight on some of the many schools that have effectively used the Pupil Premium to improve the life chances of disadvantaged pupils.

The government is clear about how schools will be held to account for the additional funding, introduced in 2011 and now worth £1,900 per eligible primary pupil, to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and close the gap between them and their peers.

At the awards ceremony, chair of the judging panel Andreas Schleicher, the director of education at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development – a man with an impressively comprehensive view of education across the world – put the Pupil Premium in an international context.

He told the audience: “If you come from a poor background, you have only got one chance. I find the Pupil Premium a truly remarkable approach.”

Many countries have an element of formula-based funding for schools for disadvantaged children. The Pupil Premium, however, is unique in the extent of the autonomy that it gives to individual schools.

Department for Education (DfE) statistics show that since the introduction of Pupil Premium funding in 2011, the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils (including looked after children and those who have been adopted from care) and their peers has narrowed.

Mr Schleicher commended all of the regional winning schools shortlisted for the awards for using evidence of what is working in other schools to inform their use of the additional funding. Sources of best practice include:

  • The Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, which helps teachers and schools effectively use the Pupil Premium.
  • The excellent practice in award-winning schools, which can be researched via the Pupil Premium Awards website.
  • The DfE’s performance tables report on the performance of disadvantaged pupils as compared with their peers. The individual websites of schools with excellent results will detail how they spend their Pupil Premium (including reasons and evidence) and the effect this has had on the attainment of eligible pupils.

The finalists in action

Ernesettle Community School in Plymouth was among the finalists at the 2016 Pupil Premium Awards. Ernesettle is an average sized school which serves a largely White British community from the surrounding area. In 2015, 100 per cent of pupils made expected progress in reading, writing and maths at the end of key stage 2 and 91 per cent of its disadvantaged pupils achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths – significantly above the national average of 80 per cent for all pupils.

This placed the school in the top achieving 100 schools in the country.

Led by headteacher Aaron Meredith, Ernesettle allocates their Pupil Premium funding to a wide range of strategies, including:

  • Raising the profile of reading, increasing reading skills, especially for boys and more able readers.
  • Effective tracking of disadvantaged pupils.
  • Provision of targeted support in all key stages.
  • Employment of specialist teachers within the curriculum, e.g. art and PE.
  • Mathletics.
  • Closing the gap through CPD focused on “quality first teaching”.
  • Utilising online assessment tools.
  • Employing a speech and language therapist (via the Dame Hannah Roger’s Charity).

The school is committed to developing the “whole child” and focuses on the emotional and psychological welfare of their children in addition to their educational provision. They understand the modern pressures of family life and the strains, financial or emotional, that life in modern Britain can pose for some families. Therefore they have employed a family support worker to help support parents, carers and families.

The family support worker organises social and educational activities for parents/carers to encourage them to meet and discuss any issues they may have. She also organises “family learning” sessions where the children and parents sign up and complete a course together, such as phonics, story-telling, cookery, art, healthy eating, improving sleeping routines for children and card-making. These courses are growing in popularity and allow parents to share an interest with their child.

Emotional and psychological needs are also met through specialist counsellors, play therapists and learning mentors. Counselling, behavioural and emotional support is also offered to parents/carers. These vital services ensure all stakeholders are in a mind-set that is conducive to learning.

The popular breakfast and after-school clubs provided by the school are subsidised to allow parents who may struggle with the fees for childcare to go out to work and provide for their families. This has had a positive impact on the children as they see the value of work and are inspired to achieve themselves. The growing popularity of this provision shows that over time they are helping to transform the aspirations of the community they serve.

Last year, two disadvantaged pupils who received targeted support in the previous year passed their 11-plus and have been accepted into grammar school, compared to zero disadvantaged children who passed the previous year.

The overall strength of combining these successful strategies is that Ernesettle has become a school which is known for its high standards, polite children and resilient learners – and in turn has become the “school of choice” for many families. As more parents choose to send their children to the school, they can ensure the legacy of the Pupil Premium funding and their commitment to the community is upheld and continued into the future.

Charlotte Parry, the disadvantaged pupil lead at Ernesettle offered some suggestions about their effective use of the Pupil Premium:

  • Invest in the improvement of quality first teaching by giving staff the support and confidence to plan, teach and evaluate. Invest in some specialist teaching as the children love it!
  • Ensure a team approach to the implementation of the Pupil Premium. Have an overall lead but ensure that everyone understands their role within the team.
  • Help children to aspire to be the best they can be. Transform their aspirations beyond their families. It is not just about “secondary-ready”, but the “bigger picture” in terms of highly respected jobs and professions. Even footballers need to be able to read their contract!
  • Use soft and hard data to track children to identify whole-school and individual priorities, e.g. implementation of a new curriculum.

Another innovative idea

Also among the finalists at the awards was Norbridge Academy in Nottinghamshire, an Ofsted-outstanding school which, in 2015, saw 100 per cent of its disadvantaged pupils achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and maths – significantly above the national average of 80 per cent. Led by headteacher George Huthart, Norbridge’s approach is based around a rich and varied curriculum that focuses on skills and knowledge. One specific approach has proved particularly effective.

The school uses “blogging” to give their community a window into some of the excellent learning, achievement and fun that takes place. Children blog at school regularly and participate in a range of activities and experiences led by different members of staff. Children are motivated to write because they are provided with a cross-curricular menu of activities and a global audience.

Overnight blogathon events take place each term for year 6. Pupils sleep at school in the hall or camp out on the school field. Around 14 staff generally stay at school overnight to support while others access blogs at home to approve posts and comments, as well as promoting the event on social media. These activities are also modified to make them appropriate to other age groups – e.g. returning to school from 6pm to 7:30pm for “Onesie Upon a Time” for the younger pupils.

All children are able to attend the events at no cost. Children have participated in activities ranging from sports, “geocaching”, tie-dye, journalism, working with a visiting author and newspaper journalist, making and cooking pizzas on a wood burning stove, songs and marshmallows around the campfire and team-building.

Pupils use the class blogs to reach a genuine audience and have received comments from people all around the world. The children are aware that their writing can be read by people other than their class teacher. They receive instant and continuous feedback and parents and families support the children through social media and are able to read and comment on blog posts, which again provides instant feedback.

Blogging is successful in raising attainment and accelerating progress for the children because of the social capital and confidence it generates.

A potential barrier to implementing this programme could have been the cost – providing a range of activities is expensive as some are heavily resourced, such as inviting guest authors into school. However, the school believes this to be a worthwhile investment of their funding.

The “blogathon” is now well established in the school calendar. Each one is slightly different from the previous one as the activities often reflect the topic of the class and also the strengths and interests of the adults leading the activities. In addition, all classes run a blogging event out of school hours each half-term, some of which are family events. Recent examples have included a Sushi Showdown, an art challenge and the Great Norbridge Bake Off!

The school has also established a group called “Worksop Bloggers”, which currently comprises five schools who participate in regular blogging challenges. Norbridge provides the prompt, stimulus, trophies and prizes and during a given week the schools blog and visit the blogs of participating classes to comment and leave feedback.

  • Jo Corrigan is the head of primary networks at SSAT.

Further information

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