Research School Network: Pupil Premium strategies: what can we learn from looking at schools’ plans? Our team looked at the Pupil Premium documents of a random sample of schools in our local area. This is what we found.


Pupil Premium strategies: what can we learn from looking at schools’ plans?

Our team looked at the Pupil Premium documents of a random sample of schools in our local area. This is what we found.

As part of a recent evidence leads meeting, the Blackpool Research School team looked at the public-facing Pupil Premium strategy documents of a random sample of schools in our local area. This blog presents our findings, and some thoughts for those currently reviewing or amending their plans.

Focus 1: Assessment (not assumption)

As Marc Rowland points out, it is vital that assessment, not assumption drives our Pupil Premium strategy. If we fail to correctly identified the challenges our pupils face, this will lead to poorly identified activity, leading to weaker outcomes for pupils.

It can also lead to a supermarket sweep’ approach to disadvantage, focusing on pouring intervention into Year 6 and Year 11 rather than tackling challenges earlier, where our impact is more likely to be longer-lasting. So we should be as precise as possible in identifying challenges, focusing in on the key things that are preventing disadvantaged pupils from attaining as well as they might.

What did we find?

While the challenges in the statements we reviewed seemed sensible on the surface, it was not always clear what assessment had been used in determining these as a priority. As an example, multiple schools reported that weak literacy posed a challenge. However, this represent a huge area of focus which would benefit from the use of rigorous assessment in defining a tighter area for development. The best plans were much clearer in their focus as a result of the use of assessment: see the extract below for an example.

Screenshot 2023 12 08 at 11 24 42
This example lacks focus, and it is unclear how assessment has been used to inform it.
Screenshot 2023 12 08 at 11 25 26
This example has a much clearer focus, tightly defined by a robust use of assessment.

Focus 2: What is in your gift?

Schools are undoubtedly important in their local communities, perhaps now more than ever. But we must be realistic about our scope and capacity. While we cannot change the world, we can change the quality of pupils’ school experiences. For example, we have more influence over reading in the classroom than we do over reading at home. This means our Pupil Premium strategies, and broader school improvement priorities, should focus on what’s in our gift.

What did we find?

The majority of schools featured strategies which focused in on support which fell within the school’s gift. These included literacy interventions, improving attendance, phonics programmes, and approached to improving pupil behaviour. However, there were also many examples of challenges for which it was not clear what in-school approaches would support improvement. These included Covid-related challenges, cultural capital, delays in accessing mental health support, and parental engagement.

Focus 3: Strategies rooted in evidence

There is no doubt that the requirement for schools to include research evidence as part of their strategy documents has resulted in plans with more links to evidence sources than previously. However, this research evidence should be used to challenge our thinking, not justify it.A criticism often faced by those advocating evidence-informed prcatices is that we can always find evidence to back up our biases. To a certain extent this might be true, but we should be clear that we are using research evidence not to prove that what we are doing is succesful; rather we are trying to assess our success with a view to making meaningful changes to what we do.

What did we find?

While all plans that we reviewed contained references to an evidence base, most commonly the EEF, there were not always clear links between the evidence beeing cited and the strategy being implemented. For example, one school proposed a series of sessions to support parents in helping their child with maths, citing the EEF’s Working with parents’ guidance report which does not suggest such strategies as an evidence-informed approach. There were similar examples around raising aspirations, which again suggested solutions which lacked a robust evidence base to support them.

Focus 4: Teaching matters

Improving the quality of teaching is the most important lever schools have in narrowing the disadvantage gap. As such, it is the strategy which is likely to have the most significant and lasting impact on outcomes, and should sit at the heart of our Pupil Premium strategy.

What did we find?

Across all settings, we found no clear evidence that Pupil Premium funding is being used primarily to support the development of high quality classroom teaching. For example, many schools’ plans focused on providing literacy interventions rather than a focus on improving the quality of classroom literacy instruction.

Broadly speaking, we found that a rule of thirds’ seemed to apply to the plans we looked at – meaning schools were spending about a third of their funding on each of the tiers’: high-quality teaching, targetted academic support, and wider strategies. While it shouldn’t be seen as fixed, evidence suggests closed to half of funding should be spent on teaching, with the rest split between the other two tiers.

Tiered Approach 2023 09 18 121712

Schools can access support with the writing and reviewing of Pupil Premium strategy documents from the new EEF guide, which also features a series of discussion prompts for governors.

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