Would pupil premium raise standards in Scotland?

11th December 2015 at 00:00
Academics and politicians want to copy England’s policy of allocating cash for disadvantaged students

England’s pupil premium could be an idea that is worth importing to the Scottish system, according to academics.

Speaking to TESS, Sheila Riddell, professor of inclusion and diversity at the University of Edinburgh, made the case that driving up the attainment of disadvantaged pupils is more important than free tuition when it comes to widening access to university.

Meanwhile, in recent weeks, Scottish Labour has proposed introducing its own version of the pupil-premium scheme, arguing that headteachers should be given £1,000 for every pupil from a deprived background.

Here’s all you need to know about England’s pupil-premium policy.

What is the pupil premium?

Originally introduced in April 2011 by the Coalition government, the pupil premium is designed to help schools close the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. Schools receive additional funding, which comes directly from central government.

How does it work?

Primaries and secondaries receive additional funding for any child who has been registered for free school meals at any point over the past six years. Schools also receive pupil-premium funds for pupils who have been looked after by the local authority. Children who are still in care attract pupil-premium funding, which is given to a virtual school head (VSH) rather than to the school. VSHs are appointed by local authorities to promote educational achievement among looked-after children.

How much do schools get?

This year, schools received £1,320 for every primary pupil who met the criteria and £935 for every eligible secondary pupil. Children who had been in care or who were still in care attracted £1,900 funding.

How do schools spend the money?

Schools are free to spend pupil-premium funds as they see fit, although they are meant to use the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit to help them decide how to spend the extra cash. The toolkit uses research to deliver judgements on the effectiveness of different measures that schools can take, from running summer schools to employing more classroom assistants.

Schools can also learn from each other to find strategies that work by comparing their own performance with other schools working in similar circumstances. In addition, the schools that have been doing the best job of driving up disadvantaged pupils’ attainment each year are recognised at the Pupil Premium Awards, an event that is run jointly by the Department for Education and TES.

What has been learned about improving the performance of disadvantaged pupils?

In 2012, England’s school inspectorate, Ofsted, published a report into the ways that schools were spending their pupil-premium funding. It found that schools with a record of improving the achievement of disadvantaged pupils ring-fenced the funding and spent it on the target group. These schools also took time to analyse which pupils were underachieving and why, and then allocated funding to activities most likely to impact on achievement. The report also found that such schools had a focus on improving day-to-day teaching and learning, used the best teachers to teach intervention groups, used data to check that interventions were working and ensured that teachers were aware which pupils were eligible for funding (bit.ly/PPspending).

What’s to stop schools spending the money on other things?

Ofsted holds schools accountable for how they use the additional funding. They have to publish details of how they have spent the funding and the impact that it has had. New assessment measures have been included in English performance tables to show the achievement of children who are eligible to receive pupil-premium funding.

Nonetheless, research has found that nearly a quarter of teachers believe the extra funding is not being targeted at low-income students. Teachers said that the cash was being used to raise the attainment of all students or to pay for activities that would otherwise have been hit by budget cuts.

What do teachers and heads say about its impact?

A poll commissioned by TES showed that less than half of teachers (43 per cent) believed the policy has had a positive effect. Primary teachers are more positive than secondary about the pupil premium, with headteachers most positive of all – 59 per cent of heads say that it has had a positive impact.


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