As my two-year stint as national pupil premium champion draws to a close, it feels like the right time to take stock. The champion role, as set out by former Liberal Democrat schools minister David Laws, has given me the opportunity to act as an independent conduit between the government and schools.
On the one hand, I have fed back to the Department for Education the messages that school leaders have given me about issues they are facing in making an impact with the pupil premium (PP); on the other hand, I have spoken to nearly 15,000 school leaders at 150 conferences and meetings about how best to develop a strategy that fits their schools’ specific needs.
What lessons have I learned during this time? What progress has been made by schools with the PP? Should the government change the PP policy? What are the main challenges for the future?
Schools that are most successful in their use of the PP adopt a range of strategies, well targeted at the needs of their pupils.
I have noted 12 areas of focus for PP policy and practice in these schools:
- Excellent collection, analysis and use of data relating to individual pupils and groups.
- Unerring focus on the quality of teaching.
- Identification of the main barriers to learning for PP-eligible pupils.
- Frequent monitoring of the progress of every PP-eligible pupil.
- When a pupil’s progress slows, interventions are put in place rapidly.
- Every effort is made to engage parents and carers in the education and progress of their child.
- If poor attendance is an issue, this is addressed as a priority.
- Evidence (especially the Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit) is used to decide on which strategies are likely to be most effective in overcoming barriers to learning.
- Staff (teachers and support staff) are trained in depth on the chosen strategies.
- 100 per cent buy-in from all staff to the importance of the PP agenda is essential, with all staff conveying positive and aspirational messages to PP-eligible pupils. Performance management is used to reinforce the importance of PP effectiveness.
- Effectiveness of teaching assistants is evaluated and, if necessary, increased through training and improved deployment.
- Governors are trained on PP.
Apart from noting these common characteristics of PP practice in successful schools, I have resisted the temptation to tell schools how to spend the PP, but instead have set out a process for deciding which policies best suit each school’s individual circumstances.
To read these look out for the second in my two-part blog about how schools and policymakers can ensure the pupil premium is put to effective use.
Sir John Dunford was national pupil premium champion from September 2013 to August 2015.