During my time as national pupil premium champion, I have resisted the temptation to tell schools how to spend their funding. Instead, I have set out a process for deciding what policies best suit each school’s individual circumstances.
This process is summarised in my blog. The 10 steps in this plan are: Step 1: Set an ambition for what you want your school to achieve with PP funding. Step 2: When you're deciding how to spend the money, start by analysing the barriers to learning for PP pupils. Step 3: Decide on the desired outcomes of your PP spending. Step 4: Identify success criteria for each desired outcome. Step 5: Evaluate the effectiveness and impact of your current PP strategies and change them if necessary. Step 6: Look at the evidence – research what works best. Step 7: Decide on the optimum range of strategies to be adopted. Step 8: Train staff. Step 9: Monitor the progress of PP-eligible pupils frequently. Step 10: Put an audit trail for PP spending on the school website.
Now I have officially left my post as the national pupil premium champion, here are some of my thoughts on how I think the policy has fared:
What progress has been made by schools with the pupil premium?
Attainment of PP-eligible young people is rising and the gap between their attainment and that of more advantaged pupils is closing. This is happening more quickly at age 11 than at 16, where many other policy factors come into play. The 2015 National Audit Office report on the pupil premium made a fair assessment of progress, noting the autonomy that schools have to spend the PP and the increasing use of evidence to inform their PP strategies.
Schools have become more analytical in their use of PP funding. Rather than spending the money largely on additional teaching assistants and subsidising school trips, as noted in Ofsted's 2012 report on PP, they are now looking to address the individual needs of pupils in order to increase their readiness to learn.
As national pupil premium champion, I have emphasised the need to put special effort into two categories of PP-eligible pupils – looked-after children and bright disadvantaged young people.
The statistics for looked-after children are a scar on our society. Twelve per cent of children in this category achieve five or more GCSEs at A*-C including English and maths, compared with 53 per cent of others. Thirty-three per cent of children leaving care become Neet (not in education, employment or training), compared with 13 per cent of all young people. Six per cent of care-leavers go to university – which is less than the percentage of care-leavers who go to prison – compared with 40 per cent of others.
Too many bright, PP-eligible children have low expectations thrust upon them and fall behind their less bright advantaged peers. Fifteen per cent of highly able pupils who score in the top 10 per cent nationally at age 11 fail to achieve in the top 25 per cent at GCSE. Boys, and particularly PP-eligible boys, are most likely to be in this missing talent group.
Should the government change the PP policy?
My short answer to that is no. The PP is a “Heineken policy”, reaching the disadvantaged children – particularly in small towns and rural areas – that previous policies, such as Excellence in Cities, did not reach.
The government does not tell schools how to spend the money, but holds them to account for how it affects the progress and attainment of their disadvantaged young people. That is a rare example in education of intelligent accountability.
The 2015 Conservative manifesto said that a Tory government would continue PP funding, but whether ministers will want to put a Tory gloss on a coalition policy remains to be seen. The new early years PP will – and should – be a priority area.
What are the main challenges for the future?
Headteachers are rightly worried at the effect of other government policies – such as the bedroom tax and the benefits cap – that are increasing child poverty and making it tougher for schools to close the gap. Cuts in other local support services for disadvantaged young people have made the task of schools more difficult, too. It is as if the Department for Education, through the PP, is trying to increase social mobility at the same time as some other government departments are reducing it.
The increasingly difficult school funding situation represents a further major challenge, and the temptation for schools to use PP funding to plug other budget gaps should be resisted if disadvantaged children are to receive the additional support that they need.
Can the gap be substantially narrowed – at age 11, at age 16, and in the life chances of young people?
Schools have shown that, with the extra resources of the PP and a strong determination to improve the life chances of all disadvantaged young people, the gap can be narrowed.
Schools need to regularly evaluate the impact of their PP spending and may benefit from an external review. Both for internal and external reviews, school leaders have found the Teaching Schools Guide useful.
The evidence of what works is there for all to see, but it needs to be disseminated. There will be no national pupil premium champion to do this, as I have tried to do since 2013. The Education Endowment Foundation will continue to fly the PP flag, but regional schools commissioners, local authorities, multi-academy trusts and teaching school alliances will need to have the PP at or near the top of their priorities if individual schools are to be adequately supported in their work with disadvantaged young people.
The social, moral and educational case for giving additional support to children born less fortunate than others remains as strong as ever. Every school needs a pupil premium champion.
Sir John Dunford was national pupil premium champion from September 2013 to August 2015.