How will you ensure that Pupil Premium and other vulnerable pupils get the support they need as schools re-open to all pupils? With an eye on Ofsted expectations and requirements, Helen Frostick advises, including on planning for the summer term

It seems clear that when Ofsted inspections return to “normal”, one overarching focus will be – understandably – on vulnerable children, including those eligible for the Pupil Premium.

A plethora of research during the pandemic has shown disadvantaged and other vulnerable pupils to have been hit hardest in many respects, including lost learning, wellbeing and safeguarding concerns.

This article aims to outline a few practical suggestions to help you evaluate just how you intend to support your vulnerable pupils as schools re-open fully – with the added advantage that this work will also help you to prepare for the return of on-site Ofsted inspections (as things stand, it seems that the summer term could see Ofsted resuming on-site inspections).

As well as a focus on vulnerable children, what is certain is that the effectiveness of “catch-up” programmes will be under greater scrutiny due to the £1.7bn in government funding – a total of £950m of which is going directly to schools. However, as I write the extra funds have not materialised into budgets, with schools waiting for spring term Pupil Premium funding as it is.

The other development is that the government has changed the arrangements for how Pupil Premium funding is determined next year. Whereas in previous years this would have been calculated based on the spring census, this year they are using the autumn term census. This means that it is likely some pupils will miss out on funding. The pupils who became eligible for Pupil Premium funding between the October 2020 and January 2021 census will not receive Pupil Premium for 2021 (DfE, 2021).

So, what must we consider about supporting Pupil Premium and other vulnerable pupils, academically and pastorally, going forward? I have broken down my advice into 14 key areas.

The child’s perspective: Start with a focus on what is like to attend and re-attend the school from a vulnerable child’s perspective. What are his/her individual and unique challenges to learning? Once established, what programmes of study could begin to counteract them? Or is it to improve attendance, social skills, or something else?

Wellbeing evaluations: There are a wide variety of wellbeing evaluations out there to help to assess a pupil’s mental health on return to school. These range from a simple 0-10 “scale of happiness”, to more sophisticated wellbeing evaluations such as those available via the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families (see further information).

Long-term: Look to a wider, longer term strategy for each pupil. Funding for Pupil Premium pupils has been pledged at least until 2022. Added to that is the additional funding per-school to support recovery as detailed above. As well as working on a year-on-year basis, plan a longer-term approach allowing the steps to success to build effectively over time. This will also lead to better transition between classes, a point of greater challenge for the most disadvantaged.

Early years: Carry out a mid-year review of early years provision for disadvantaged pupils. Focus particularly on the design of programmes to speed up the acquisition of speaking, listening, reading and writing skills. The acquisition of basic skills is essential if a pupil is to succeed in a broader sense as they progress through the school. Do the reading scheme books mirror early phonics development? Are early reading books synthetic phonics books that match phonics knowledge? Reading is of key importance as a gateway to wider curriculum subjects and their content.

Support staff: Consider the effectiveness of all adults in the school, including support staff. Many disadvantaged pupils will spend considerable time with support staff. How do these adults help children to learn? Do they model language development, show, explain, demonstrate, explore ideas, encourage questioning, recall, provide a narrative for what the child is doing, frame, facilitate and set standards? Ofsted will judge the progress of the pupils by what children know, understand and can do. A focus on attitudes and dispositions will also inform inspectors’ decision as to the quality of education.

Monitoring/evaluation: Inspectors will take a rounded view of the quality of education a school provides for all pupils, including the most disadvantaged. Prepare an extra layer of monitoring to prove how the school meets different pupils’ needs, including for those with SEND. This could be a separate section on observation proformas where the impact of teaching is commented on specifically for this group. Or a specific monitoring recording sheet, including barriers to learning and steps to eradicate them. A pitfall when evaluating outcomes for Pupil Premium Pupils is that they don’t always share similar needs. It is helpful to focus analysis on educationally meaningful groups of children, such as those who have poor handwriting or are weak readers. The start of the summer term is a good time to re-evaluate Personal Education Plans for looked after pupils and Individual Education Plans too.

Pupils’ work: With a lack of end of key stage data due to the suspension of formative testing and assessment, it is a good time to consider how to collect portfolios of work from the pupils across the wider curriculum. Using “Golden Books”, whereby the children work in a special book every term, is an efficient way to record progress over time. They are an excellent way to keep parents informed of progress too, rather than just hearing about scale points and key performance indicators. The books can be sent home at the end of each term with on-going targets set within them.

Baseline assessment: Before the Easter holidays, once the children have settled back into school life, carry out summative assessments across the core curriculum in reading, writing and maths. The information collected will prove important to measure progress against at the end of the summer term.

Review the curriculum map: Does it powerfully address social disadvantage? Are the pupils gaining knowledge and skills they need to take advantage of opportunities, responsibilities and experiences later in life? This is the area in which cultural capital will be judged. It is “the essential knowledge that pupils need to be educated citizens” according to Ofsted’s inspection framework.

Curriculum offer: It will be expected that the curriculum offer is not reduced for disadvantaged or vulnerable pupils, for example by the pupils being withdrawn from wider curriculum opportunities or lessons to attend booster classes. The inspectors will look for evidence that the curriculum “intent” – to use Ofsted’s new “intent, implementation, impact” jargon – is to address gaps in a pupils’ knowledge and skills.

Ambitious: The inspectors will want to see that the curriculum is ambitious and extends beyond the academic, technical or vocational; that it develops the pupils personally to help them become resilient, empathetic and resourceful. Look for opportunities to enable disadvantaged pupils to gain confidence and to build their self-esteem. For example, the opportunity to run their own club or to have positions of leadership. Music tuition is another area to invest in on behalf of your disadvantaged pupils. Cost might otherwise be a barrier for this group. Most local authority music trusts offer discounts on the price of instruments and have a loan service too.

Families: Supporting families will exemplify strong and effective leadership. What can you do to build upon the parental trust and engagement of those more challenging to reach? For example, if there are attendance and punctuality concerns, it is far more effective for the school to act directly with the family rather than via an educational welfare officer (unless it is as a last resort). Free places at breakfast club can be an effective way of supporting a family to improve punctuality.

Strategy documents: When publishing the Pupil Premium strategy on the school website consider the audience, including both parents and inspectors. It will be one of the first ports of call for inspectors and first impressions will be made. Try to personalise it rather than using a generic template alone. Some schools include photographs of pupils at work. The important question to address within the strategy is: “What support do pupils need in order to help them to progress?” Explicitly adjust adult support based on that need.

Mentoring: A mentoring system in school is an effective way of maintaining bonds between pupils and staff and enabling adults to go the extra mile for the pupils. It could be by simply taking time out to help pupils pre-learn vocabulary specific to new topics or ensuring that the pupils have the equipment and materials they need to engage with home learning projects.

  • Helen Frostick is a National Leader of Education, educational consultant, inspector, public speaker and author. She recently retired from her role as headteacher of a south London primary school. To read her previous articles for Headteacher Update, visit

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