A guide to the pupil premium

The DfE’s new pupil premium strategy statement is aimed at helping schools to explain how they are using this crucial funding. Suzanne O’Connell looks at what it entails and what’s involved

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Headteacher Update

This year the Department of Education has produced a standard pupil premium strategy statement for primary and secondary schools to use. The statement is to help schools explain how their pupil premium funding is being spent and the outcomes that are being achieved.

New guidance (DfE, 2021a) includes a template that must be used to publish your statement for the 2021/22 academic year. It states, ‘From the 2021/22 academic year, you must use the template provided to publish your statement – this is a condition of your funding’.

It includes a requirement to demonstrate how your spending decisions are informed by a range of evidence and the guidance adds that Ofsted inspectors will use the statement to help them prepare for their visit. The guidance adds, “It’s important that parents and governors can understand how you’re using the pupil premium and you should write it with these groups in mind.”

Finally, the guidance tells schools to use their COVID-19 recovery premium alongside their pupil premium funding and report on their use of them as a single sum in the strategy statement.

Pupil premium strategy v pupil premium statement

Before we go any further, it is useful to clarify some of the terms being used here as there seems to be some confusion between what a school’s pupil premium strategy involves and where the strategy statement sits.

Your pupil premium strategy refers to your own analysis, discussion and documents that have been key in determining how your pupil premium money should be allocated, accounted for, spending decisions justified, and so on.

The pupil premium statement, meanwhile, is a school’s declaration, against formal headings, of its situation, intention and outcomes for the benefit of parents, inspectors and anyone else with an interest. It should be published on your website.

In other words, the statement should reflect the content of your strategy in a formal – and now pre-determined – way, whereas the formulation of your strategy is likely to be on-going work in line with your school development plan. The statement is an annual form-filling exercise that must be completed by December 31 and reviewed each year.

Your strategy

Your pupil premium strategy is about making choices set in the context of your school and catchment. This is your working document that will help steer your budget. Schools must be even more careful to evidence how their pupil premium money is spent and it is important to demonstrate how spending decisions are informed by research evidence.

According to DfE guidance (2021b), activities included in your strategy can include:

  • Teaching: such as training and professional development for teachers, recruitment and retention, and support for teachers early in their careers.
  • Targeted academic support: such as one-to-one tuition, small group tuition and speech and language therapy.
  • Wider approaches: such as support for non-academic issues including attendance, behaviour and social and emotional challenges. Support might include school breakfast clubs, counselling to support emotional health and wellbeing, or help with the cost of educational trips or visits.

What is most important is that your pupil premium strategy can be explained and justified. You should be clear about how it:

  • can be flexible to changing circumstances and responsive to new issues;
  • lies within your overall school ethos;
  • is supported by the aims of your curriculum;
  • is evidence of your ambition for, and high expectations of, your disadvantaged pupils;
  • takes into consideration specific circumstances of your school, its context and catchment;
  • reflects the data that you have analysed;
  • can be shown to be effective (what evidence do you have that it works? What action have you taken when things have not worked?)

Hard vs soft approaches

Although a statistical approach is still advisable, it is also increasingly important to demonstrate, as far as you can, how the softer aspects of personal development are being addressed. How are you motivating and encouraging your pupil premium children? How are you able to personalise your approaches to address the individual barriers that can arise? Attitudinal data and qualitative evidence might be used if you have any of this available.

It is important to still make reference to the Education Endowment Foundation evidence summaries of what works. Your own evidence, including anecdotal evidence, should also be included to explain the reasons for your choices. Don’t be afraid to refer to local differences, the interests of your pupils, and what you have seen that works for them.

Although you will still want to use the hard data available for 2019 (pre-pandemic) teacher assessment of differences between groups will be particularly important in the coming months. Ideally, you are looking to demonstrate impact to justify your choices. Alternatively what changes will you make if outcomes do not appear to reflect your aspirations?

Ofsted inspections

We are now well into a new school year and Ofsted will be interested to know how you are spending your pupil premium grant as well as the COVID-19 recovery premium. You should be able to demonstrate how you intend to measure the effectiveness of your spending and share with inspectors ‘conclusions drawn and actions taken from any internal assessment information’.

You will want to demonstrate that you are actively reflecting on your practice and that, where there are differences between what you thought would happen and what actually did happen, you have planned out next steps as a result. Attendance will be something that you have monitored closely over the past months and this data should be available to justify and illustrate any attendance activities you have included as part of your pupil premium strategy.

A whole-school approach

It is important that school leaders are closely involved in the decisions surrounding the pupil premium. Although one school leader may be named as responsible, pupil premium should touch upon every area of responsibility. Every member of staff should be aware of the need to support and raise the achievement of disadvantaged pupils and what their role in doing this might be. Similarly, although a linked governor may take a specific interest, the governing body as a whole should be aware of the importance of closing the gap and the role that the pupil premium might have in this.

As a school business manager you should be closely involved in preparing financial reports which indicate the spending on specific initiatives and support future decision-making. Individual members of staff should be involved, as appropriate, in the evaluation of strategies and when discussing the performance of pupils who are eligible for this funding.

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