Those interested in education and with an eye on the news will have spotted that Government funding for the so-called Pupil Premium has been increased to £900 per pupil for the year 2013-14. This will cost £2.5bn, up from £1.25bn in 2012-13 and £625m in 2011-12.
So what is the Pupil Premium and why is it important?
It may come as no surprise that children from disadvantaged families tend not to do so well at school. Indeed, comparing GCSE (A* to C, 2011-12) results of this group to the average, shows 42% passing versus 67%, an ‘attainment gap’ or shortfall of 25%. Lower levels of educational attainment are linked to low aspirations and future prospects. A clear focus on this group is important, if we are to see higher levels of attainment across the board and in some schools which traditionally struggle to get children through their education with decent grades.
Disadvantaged children are deemed to be those who have benefitted from Free School Meals (a population size of 1.6m) sometime in the last 6 years. Other groups to benefit include those in care for over 6 months and the children of service personnel.
So all very well, I hear you say – but does it work?
OFSTED found in September 2012 that a minority of English schools were spending the money effectively:
- Only 10% of school leaders said it had significantly improved the way they supported disadvantaged students.
- Schools were sometimes using the funding to keep current education provision going rather than investing in new initiatives.
- The extra funds were often being tipped into the mainstream school budget, and sometimes being spent on things such as educational and residential trips, and even uniform, equipment and buildings.
Schools focusing on the needs of their disadvantaged pupils were investing in Teaching Assistants (two fifths of schools) and new or existing Teachers (one quarter). Some schools are also investing in one to one and group tutoring from private tutors.
So what works?
A controversial study by the Sutton Trust say that “Most studies have consistently found (Teaching Assistants have a) very small or no effects on attainment.”. Given this finding, it is somewhat surprising that schools continue to funnel resources in this way.
The picture for one to one tuition is different. The Sutton Trust aso say that “pupils might improve by about 4 or 5 months during the programme” but rightly point out that it is not cheap.
I find it surprising that more money is not being focused on providing hands on one to one tutoring help for disadvantaged pupils – £900 per pupil will still go along way.
There are other factors of course which can deliver big improvements in attainment, e.g. small group tutoring, peer tutoring and early years support.
Are the right pupils getting support?
There are concerns that the definition of a ‘disadvantaged pupil’ is too narrow. The school meals measure often excludes new arrivals into the country and those need to take on English as an additional language. There are also pupils who regularly change school, and miss the continuity that they need.
Including these pupils, with obvious educational support needs would also improve the effectiveness of the programme in my opinion.
So what next?
Following the OFSTED review Schools are being given time to get their house in order. Cash needs to be focused on the target groups not used simply to balance the books.
Maintaining a clear focus on how this money is spent is a priority – what gets measured is what gets done. If Schools do not tow the line then the money will need to be managed and controlled centrally – not what the Government would wish of course, but this topic is too important to get wrong.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on the Pupil Premium going forward, and will keep you informed of developments.
Before we close, do any of our readers have an opinion about the Pupil Premium? If so, please feel free to add it as a comment to this blog post.