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Research School Network: Pupil Premium: Accountability with a purpose Marc Rowland describes two of the new changes to the Pupil Premium policy.


Pupil Premium: Accountability with a purpose

Marc Rowland describes two of the new changes to the Pupil Premium policy.

by Research Schools Network
on the

Marc Rowland, Unity Research School

In April 2011, the Pupil Premium was introduced to focus school funding on supporting the most disadvantaged pupils in our schools. This attention to disadvantage has helped zero in on the damaging but enduring relationship between family income and school success. 

The policy, however, has not been without issue. One of the problems with online Pupil Premium statements historically is that they have – like the fable of the man, the donkey and the boy – tried to be all things to all people. Are they a strategic planning tool? Are they for inspectors? Are they for accountability to families? 

In recognition of some of the issues that have attended the premium, in the next few weeks, a revised reporting template and supporting guidance for the use and impact of the Pupil Premium will be published by the DfE that will reflect changes announced earlier in the summer.

Two particularly important changes to note include:

To give schools greater certainty in planning their expenditure, recruitment, teaching practice and staff development, we encourage schools to produce a three-year strategy for Pupil Premium use, with light touch annual reviews. This will enable school leaders to take a longer view of the support to be provided through the grant and align it with wider school improvement strategy.

We recommend that the statement should be completed and reviewed at the beginning of the academic year, although it should be a ‘living document’ that can evolve over the course of the year.

These are positive changes. Colleagues at the DfE have listened. The new strategy is an attempt to steer practice towards a long-term, nuanced and relational approach, that tackles disadvantage chiefly by improving what happens in the classroom.

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The new requirements try to tackle a reductive and potentially cumbersome list of spending’ approach by providing a simplified template for external stakeholders, whilst also offering some challenging questions and supporting guidance to ensure the online information is supported by evidence, best practice and best process. 

The new strategy document also responses to workload concerns, with a direct focus on creating a concise and useful strategy document.

When planning to write a purposeful statement, questions leaders may want to think about are:

  • What are the key issues to address to raise the attainment of disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils in your school?What are the barriers to learning? Be specific. Focus on the causes, not the symptoms. Avoid generalisations such as poor literacy’. Lower rates of progress are not barriers, but outcomes.
  • What is the evidence you have used to identify those issues?
    This is critical. One of the reasons Pupil Premium has not had the impact it might have is that barriers are sometimes assumptions. A strategy that is not informed by a robust analysis of need is like trying to bake a cake without a recipe.
  • What programmes, actions, approaches will you adopt to overcome those issues? It is important to remember to focus on learning, and to focus on what is in the school’s gift. Schools can’t solve all societal problems. Be wary of chasing the wind when overly focusing on things beyond your control. Make sure that the activities tackle the identified need. And… the adage that we can always get better at what we do should not be forgotten. The EEF’s tiered approach helps structure an approach that focuses primarily on the classroom.
  • What research evidence exists to support your chosen approach?
    It is important to use evidence to inform decision making, not just looking for evidence to justify decisions already taken. How does the evidence align with professional judgement and values. Does it fit with your school context?
  • What will we expect to see when we visit your school?
    This is important. Research from the National Governors Association found that there was often a gap between what was said on Pupil Premium website statements and what is happening in schools.
  • What outcomes are you looking to achieve, and how will you know you have achieved them? It is really important to be specific here. Remember that those involved in the implementation of a strategy are unlikely to be able to evaluate robustly and objective. Outcomes should cover short, medium and longer periods. Some strategies may take longer to embed and have a sustained impact. Remember that evaluation is about assessing whether something has worked, not trying to prove it has done.
  • What might not work as well as you’d like it to? Carry out a pre-mortem’ about what might go wrong, to anticipate challenges. The EEF’s Putting Evidence to Work’ guidance report can support this approach to careful prioritisation and implementation.
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