All in all ... the pupil premium

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Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole is a senior research fellow in disability studies and psychology, at the Research Institute for Health and Social Change, Manchester Metropolitan University.

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The Government has underlined its commitment to the pupil premium in the Spending Review for 2015/16.

- What is the premium?

The pupil premium provides schools with an extra £900 for each disadvantaged pupil, usually those on free school meals.

Schools are expected to use the premium to raise pupils' attainment. Schools have done this in different ways, including one-to-one or one-to-two tutoring, homework clubs and literacy interventions.

- Does it work?

Ofsted has found that effective use of the premium can help to narrow the gap between low-income households and affluent families. Schools that ringfence and target the funding see improvements in attainment.

However, Ofsted has also found that a minority of schools are not spending the money effectively. Typically, these schools do not have clear audit trails for how the money is spent and its impact. Ofsted has also criticised schools with a blanket policy of spending the premium on employing teaching assistants without focusing their work on raising pupils' attainment.

Teaching unions have rejected these criticisms, drawing attention instead to budget cuts. Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, says, 'Schools have had to use pupil premium money to plug gaps caused by funding problems.' Concerns have also been raised that schools with fewer pupils in receipt of free school meals will be disproportionately affected by budget cuts.

- What next?

From September, schools will be more accountable for how the premium is spent. Schools where pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are not judged to be making good progress will be unlikely to achieve 'outstanding' in an inspection, and schools in the 'requiring improvement' category will face extra scrutiny.

John Dunford, former general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has been appointed to advise the Department for Education.

Points for practice

  • Ensure you have good audit trails so that you can evidence the ways the premium is spent
  • Ensure the premium is targeted, rather than general, spending
  • Resist the temptation to use the premium to back-fill budgets not targeted at raising pupil achievement.

For more information www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/pupil-premium.

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