How can we meet the needs of pupil premium students?
In 2018-19, just over one million (23%) primary school students in England were eligible for Pupil Premium funding and in secondary schools there were 802,545 (35%) Pupil Premium-eligible pupils. It represents a significant considerable amount of discretionary funding for most schools with the average value per primary school = £78,254 and per secondary school = £171,322.
There has been much written on the most effective interventions for Pupil Premium students. However, much of this has been built on a three flawed assumptions, namely:
- Pupil Premium students can be treated as a homogeneous group who have similar needs and barriers
- An intervention-based model of support is sufficient to help Pupil Premium students catch up and keep up with their peers
- Addressing the academic deficits should be the focus of intervention
This blog aims to explore these assumptions and offer alternative ways to think about and plan for meeting the needs of Pupil Premium students.
The fallacy of homogeneity
Perhaps because national funding is allocated to all Pupil Premium students equitably or because numerous reports lump the national Pupil Premium cohort together or indeed because Ofsted report on this group as a unified student population, we frequently find ourselves seduced into thinking about Pupil Premium students as a homogeneous group. They are anything but! Pupil Premium students share their relative familial poverty in common but their idiosyncratic circumstances are shaped by a multitude of factors. These include family values, socio-cultural influences and geography.
It is therefore vital that we view each Pupil Premium student as an individual.
It is critical that key staff meet regularly to look at the progress and wellbeing of their Pupil Premium students. This helps build up a detailed picture of the personal circumstances and barriers faced by each student. In turn, support and interventions can be appropriately matched to individual needs. For example, through peer mentoring, maths tutoring, anger management, resilience training etc.
We should start with these questions:
- Who are our Pupil Premium students and what are their particular needs and barriers?
- How are we deliberately designing bespoke programmes of support around individuals to address these needs and barriers?
- How well is the Pupil Premium being used?
Intervention v Quality First Teaching (QFT)
There has also been much made of the quest to find the ‘silver bullet’. But this is also built on a deeply false premise.
I have visited many schools where their Pupil Premium students are achieving well. When posed with the question “What is your Pupil Premium Strategy?” the response always relates to the centrality of Quality First Teaching (QFT).
This is where teaching is built around very high expectations for all, subject expertise and positive relationships. It is where teachers forensically knowing their students so they can proactively intervene in lessons to close any gaps in learning. This raises the importance of maintaining high expectations for all as a means to avoid the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’. We must avoid expecting less from our Pupil Premium students and never conflate low prior attainment as limited potential.
QFT should, therefore, include deliberate strategies that target closing the gaps for Pupil Premium students (e.g. targeted questioning, additional verbal and written feedback, targeted live marking during lessons, strategic seating plan). It also highlights the critical importance of good attendance. If a student is missing from school then they miss out on QFT and Pupil Premium students often have a lower attendance rate than their peers.
Therefore, a key challenge is to ensure QFT includes strategies to help students catch up on missed work so they do not fall further behind. Therefore, we should begin with questions like:
- In which areas do Pupil Premium students do less well in this school than their peers and why?
- How can QFT be used effectively to deliberately support Pupil Premium students catch up and keep up?
- How effective is our system to ensure students are routinely helped to catch up work following an absence from school?
Academic v social capital interventions
If one accepts that QFT is how we can ensure Pupil Premium students catch up and keep up, then we can also start to think about broadening the definition of intervention to include activities aimed at developing students’ social and cultural capital.
I am not suggesting academic interventions should be avoided in their entirety. Clearly, they do have a place in helping Pupil Premium students catch up and keep up. This is particularly the case in basic literacy and numeracy e.g. Year 7 catch-up premium.
I am however suggesting that we should think carefully about what aspects of a student’s cultural and social capital is poorly developed and intervene accordingly. The new draft Ofsted framework makes explicit reference to how schools are deliberately designing opportunities to build students’ social and cultural capital into their curriculum. This is both necessary and welcomed.
Schools should be tracking which students attend enrichment trips, visits and clubs. They should have a deliberate strategy to ensure Pupil Premium students are as fully represented as possible. We must therefore ask:
- How do we ensure we deliberately build our students’ social and cultural capital to help develop life-changing experiences?
- Do we adopt a culture of regularly reviewing the effectiveness of our Pupil Premium strategy?
- How is evidence used to inform spending?
For many students school is their singular source of safety, positive experience and platform for developing a brighter future. It is therefore vital that we fully acknowledge in everything we do that they (and we) have one shot at making a significant and sustained difference to permanently change the trajectory of their lives for the better.