Pupil premium was introduced seven years ago, the aim was simple: to provide additional money to support and boost the attainment of disadvantaged young people – to, essentially, help close the disadvantage gap.
‘The pupil premium’s strength lies in both its purpose and its clarity,’ Sir Collins wrote. The merits of the funding model are evident and the idea of ring-fenced funding to support the needs of the poorest pupils has gained support across the political spectrum and has been adopted elsewhere, he observes.
In the same breath he is realistic in its limitations and its measures – after all it’s near impossible to quantify its impact on the attainment of disadvantaged students.
However, Sir Collins points out that despite it’s being unable to measure impact on attainment, what it has done is increase schools’ focus on closing the gap. ‘Before it was introduced, 57% of school leaders said they provided specific support for disadvantaged students; this rose to 94% afterwards, according to a National Audit Office (NAO) survey.’
So, how can schools and academies ensure that, when budgets are under such immense pressure, pupil premium is making the greatest differentce?
Sir Collins shares three suggestions:
“First, we must strengthen the link between the pupil premium and teaching. While the premium should remain a ring-fenced part of school budgets, this financial separation should not cause it to become isolated from the core business of schools. We can be obsessed with add-ons. There is undoubtedly still a place for targeted support, but high-quality first teaching is the most powerful driver of educational equity.
“Second, schools should regard it as absolutely legitimate to spend their pupil premium to get – and keep – the teachers they need to deliver that high-quality teaching. In 2015, the NAO found that fewer than five per cent of schools used the premium to support recruitment. But using the premium to tackle the recruitment and retention challenge – and evaluating new approaches as we innovate – must make sense at a time when it is schools’ biggest worry.
“Third, more should be done to encourage schools to share successful strategies. Increasing the level and quality of school-to-school support, as recommended this month by the NAHT headteacher union’s Accountability Commission, is crucial to creating a consistently excellent system.”