Spending the Pupil Premium well in primary schools

Written by: HTU | Published:

Ofsted’s latest report into how schools are spending the Pupil Premium finds that while more schools are using the funding effectively, a ‘significant minority’ are still struggling. Pete Henshaw takes a look

The Pupil Premium is now a significant part of many schools’ budgets, with some primary schools in Ofsted’s study receiving more than £134,000 this year. So unsurprisingly, the pressure is on headteachers to be able to show the impact that this money is having on eligible pupils.

The funding was first introduced in April 2011 when it was worth £488 for every pupil on free school meals (FSM) or those who had been in care for at least six months.

This year, the Premium is worth £900 per pupil, with all children who have been eligible for FSM at any point in the last six years now also being eligible. The report is positive about how many primaries are spending the funding, but said “a significant minority are still struggling to show how the money is making any meaningful impact in terms of narrowing the gap between pupils from low income and more affluent families”.

Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said: “Many of these good schools are concentrating on the core areas of literacy and numeracy to break down the main barriers to accessing the full curriculum. They are also focusing on the key stages of a child’s development in their school career.

“However, some schools still lack good enough systems for tracking the spending of the additional funding or for evaluating the effectiveness of measures they have put in place in terms of improving outcomes.”

The report is based on visits to 43 primary and 25 secondary schools during the autumn. It lists a range of general characteristics of successful Pupil Premium schools and those that have struggled (see boxout, opposite). It also offers seven strategies for success with specific aspects or projects, which we focus on here.

Targeting funding well

Ofsted praises schools which use tracking data intelligently to analyse their pupils’ underachievement in the school as a whole, and who focus on a long-term strategy ahead of “quick wins”.

The study quotes one school which found evidence that pupils who gained a Level 2c in maths at the end of key stage 1 seldom reached Level 4 by the end of year 6.

The report said: “The school uses Pupil Premium funding to provide an intensive mathematics intervention for younger pupils. This was delivered daily to pupils on a one-to-one basis for as long as they required the support. The intervention strategy was tightly planned and well taught.”

A second primary school in the study used its own self-evaluation to determine its spending and found that interventions in year 6 were not always being taught by suitable staff. So the school used funds to employ a good additional teacher for one term in year 6, enabling smaller ability groups for English and maths.

Effective intervention classes/tuition

Many schools used one-on-one tuition or intervention classes and these were successful when they were taught by well-qualified and specialist teachers, were time-limited and linked to day-to-day teaching.

It was also important that the timetabling of these interventions did not have a negative impact on other areas of pupils’ learning. One school in the study did not solely consider age-related expectations and focused on identifying and removing potential barriers to achievement.

For example, a programme of one-to-one support from a learning mentor was focused on a small group of more-able pupils who were lacking in confidence and social skills. Elsewhere, speech and language programmes were introduced for pupils who had poor oracy skills.

Ensuring TAs raise standards

Ofsted is clear that teaching assistants, to be effective, must clearly understand their role, be well-trained, and targeted at those classes most in need. Changing their hours to help them plan approaches with teachers is also a good idea, inspectors say.

One headteacher in the study identified that the school’s teaching assistants were providing valuable emotional support to pupils and this was keeping them on task.He moved to extend the teaching assistants’ hours, allowing them to work with teachers to review each day’s learning and be better prepared for the learning planned for the next day.

The teaching assistants’ skills were also audited before the school introduced skills lessons, where pupils worked with teaching assistants for 20 minutes a day focused on a specific skill.

Minimising barriers to achievement

Ofsted highlights the importance of a focus on pupils’ home circumstances and possible barriers such as poor behaviour, exclusions or low attendance. Social and emotional skills could also be an area where support is needed, while schools might also need to engage more deeply with parents, inspectors say.

A nurture group was the solution for one primary school, which identified pupils, both Premium and non-Premium, who were underachieving because of social and emotional difficulties. A qualified teacher and two teaching assistants led the group with the aim of giving them confidence to participate in classes and improving social and learning skills. This was structured alongside a clear plan for improving their reading and writing.

Meeting particular needs

The Pupil Premium could effectively be used to meet specific pupil’s needs, inspectors say. Schools should recognise when particular circumstances left pupils vulnerable to underachievement or where “gaps in experiences” due to poverty might have an impact on pupils.

One school worked to support a Romanian boy after he joined in year 4 speaking no English. A multilingual assistant was recruited for two hours each week with additional one-to-one English and reading tuition five times a week.


Ofsted reports on effective governance in this area including governors who ask “challenging questions about how effective each action funded by the Pupil Premium was being in improving achievement”.

A case study in the report shows governors visiting other schools to see best practice in action, specific committees being set-up to monitor and evaluate Premium spending, and the governing body having a good knowledge of how much of the money had been spent by the school and on what, having been involved in the decision-making processes.

Monitoring and evaluation

Proper monitoring of Pupil Premium spending involved a wide range of data being looked at as a whole, Ofsted say. This includes achievement data, pupils’ work, observations, case studies and the views of pupils and staff. Effective monitoring meant that interventions and approaches could be changed or adapted quickly if they were not working. The effective evaluation of pastoral interventions for issues such as behaviour or attendance was also seen as crucial.

Characteristics of a well-spent Pupil Premium
• Proper analysis of where pupils are underachieving and why.
• Good use of research evidence, including the Sutton Trust’s Toolkit, when choosing activities.
• Focus on high-quality teaching, rather than relying on interventions to compensate. The best teachers lead intervention groups in English and maths.
• Frequent use of achievement data to check effectiveness of interventions. School adjusts techniques constantly, rather than waiting until after the intervention.
• Systematic focus on clear pupil feedback and advice for improving their work.
• Designated senior leader has an overview of funding allocations.
• All teachers are aware of the Pupil Premium children in their classes so they can take responsibility for their progress.
• Strategies are available for improving attendance, behaviour or family links if these are an issue.
• Performance management of staff includes discussions about Pupil Premium children.

Characteristics of a poorly spent Pupil Premium
• A lack of clarity about intended impact of spending.
• Indiscriminate spending on teaching assistants.
• No monitoring of quality/impact of interventions.
• An unclear audit trail.
• Focus on pupils attaining the Level 4 benchmarks but no more.
• Pupil Premium is spent in isolation – not part of school development plan.
• School compares performance to local, not national, data.
• Pastoral work is not focused on the desired outcomes for pupils.
• A school cannot present evidence to show whether work has been effective.
• Governors are not involved in taking decisions.

Further information
Ofsted’s report, The Pupil Premium: How schools are spending the funding, can be downloaded online alongside a set of documents to help schools analyse gaps in achievement and plan their actions effectively. Visit www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/pupil-premium-how-schools-are-spending-funding-successfully-maximise-achievement.

• Pete Henshaw is the editor of Headteacher Update.

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

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