Ofsted watch - The pupil premium is a job for the dream team

9th January 2015 at 00:00
Spending and outcomes for disadvantaged pupils are high on Ofsted's agenda - and inspectors want to see all hands on deck

My school opened its doors to Ofsted in February 2014. We were rated good and received lots of praise. But the pupil premium was identified as an area for improvement.

We receive a significant amount of extra funding from the premium, so it was hardly surprising that it was high on the inspectors' agenda. They scrutinised how we were allocating and monitoring spending and, crucially, how we identified gaps in students' knowledge, demonstrated progress and raised attainment from starting levels that were often low.

We were proud to showcase our capabilities and eager to prove that we understood exactly how our students had progressed. Our programme was run by a full-time "pupil premium champion" who established systems to plan and manage our framework effectively. I had also assigned a member of the senior leadership team to manage and support the champion.

This strategy appeared to be working well, but Ofsted's report suggested that a different approach was necessary. It is clear that Ofsted is looking for a collaborative approach in which tutors, the senior leadership team, special educational needs supervisors, home liaison staff and governors all have a shared understanding of expenditure and impact. Everyone must work together to ensure that learning is differentiated to the needs of individual students.

The inspection gave us the impetus to review our methods. As a result, we have radically shifted our focus and created a pupil premium team, rather than having just one dedicated champion. This collaborative approach has enabled us to carefully monitor activities and develop a more structured intervention programme.

Here is my advice, based on our experience, on how to best manage your pupil premium in anticipation of an inspection.

Create a dedicated team

Before the inspection, our pupil premium budget was partially used to cover salaries. This included the entire wage of the champion and contributions to the wages of other members of staff, including a literacy support worker, a nurture group teaching assistant and an additional maths teacher to support a Year 11 pupil premium class. We also used the funds to partly pay for the time of an inclusion manager, and we nominated one governor to take responsibility for overseeing all the pupil premium activity.

Since the inspection we have created an even stronger pupil premium network. We now have more members - including our business manager and all governors - who each have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. By taking this approach, we ensure that the entire governing body is involved in making decisions about spending and that senior leaders are more methodical in driving change and managing success.

Assign and empower tutors

We have employed three part-time pupil achievement tutors, who each take responsibility for a key stage 3 year group. This means that every pupil premium student is known personally and is carefully monitored, both academically and socially. We empower tutors to determine where they will be the most effective in providing support, as well as ensuring that they see every student on their list in a variety of subjects. Notes are kept on what we do for each pupil and these are used in progress reports.

Prioritise student outcomes

We looked again at the interventions we had put in place and recognised the challenge of measuring outcomes. Some approaches, such as attendance interventions, are easy to monitor, but others are more difficult. We hope that this year, as pupil achievement tutors develop closer relationships with students and as we introduce the use of a questionnaire, we will know which interventions have worked and for whom.

Focus on enrichment activities

Ofsted evidently expects pupil premium funding to be geared towards student activities. Our students who are eligible for the premium (and for free school meals) already benefit from one-to-one mentoring, advice and personal support sessions. Our vertical tutoring system has also proved crucial in enriching lifelong learning. Beyond that, we have set up small grouptuition sessions and we offer intensive revision workshops, twilight tutoring and individual tuition.

I believe that some of our broader enrichment initiatives struck a chord with the inspectors. For instance, we have strong links with the British Council's Connecting Classrooms programme and we offer pupil premium students the opportunity to visit a school in Ethiopia or South Africa. We also have ongoing partnerships with schemes such as SkillForce and Military Mentors, which enable students to work alongside ex-military personnel to develop functional skills.

We know that joined-up thinking is crucial to pupil premium success. I've been in education for more than 35 years and there has always been pressure to scrutinise gaps in achievement in order to ensure successful outcomes. Our latest inspection was a poignant reminder of the positive impact that Ofsted has on so many young lives, even if we often feel that we are battling against constant change.

Phil Munday is executive principal of Henry Cort Community College in Hampshire

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