Ofsted’s report into the Pupil Premium
Some secondaries in Ofsted’s study receiving up to and even more than £296,500 this year. It was first introduced in April 2011 when it was worth £488 for every pupil on free school meals (FSM) or those who have been in care for at least six months. This year, it is worth £900 per pupil, with all children who have been eligible for FSM at any point in the last six years now also being eligible (FSM6).
The report is based on visits to 43 primary and 25 secondary schools during the autumn. It lists a range of general characteristics of both successful and unsuccessful Premium spending (see list at the end of this article). It also offers details on specific strategies that have worked.
Strategy 1: Targeting funding well
- used their tracking data intelligently to analyse the underachievement of individual pupils
- but then went beyond this to analyse any patterns in underachievement in the school as a whole
- took a long term view and did not just concentrate on ‘quick wins’
- trying to stop achievement gaps from widening long before the end of a key stage
- considered a range of barriers to pupils’ learning, including attendance, behaviour, family circumstances and resources to support learning at home or at school
- knew exactly what the desired outcomes were for each aspect of work that they were planning to fund through the Pupil Premium
- used research evidence to inform their thinking.
One secondary school in the study set aside a pot of its Pupil Premium and allowed teachers to bid for funding for specific resources or interventions. The staff had access to assessment and tracking systems which helped to identify underachievement in each subject, and inspectors found that this approach worked because the teachers “knew the pupils best” and took responsibility for meeting their needs. Parents and carers were also encouraged to put forward suggestions, with each request being considered carefully by the Premium co-ordinator and discussed in detail with the guardian.
Strategy 2: Effective intervention/tuition
- were carefully targeted to specific pupils to improve particular aspects of their skills or knowledge in reading, writing, communication or mathematics
- were taught by well-qualified specialist teachers, or well-trained and highly-competent teaching assistants, depending on the skills being taught
- were time limited, not a way of life
- were linked well to day-to-day teaching
- had clear success criteria
- did not have a negative impact on pupils’ learning in any other area of the curriculum because the time when they took place was carefully planned
- were frequently evaluated and alterations were made quickly where strategies were not working.
It was also important that the timetabling of these interventions didn’t have a negative impact on other areas of pupils’ learning.
One secondary school used specialist teachers to teach small groups of pupils who were underachieving in a specific aspect of English or maths, such as the use of apostrophes. The pupils attended regular intensive sessions for a short period with a specialist teacher before quickly returning to normal lessons.
Strategy 3: Ensuring TAs raise standards
Employing new teaching assistants or extending the roles of those already in post were common ways for the schools visited, especially primary schools, to spend some of the funding. As previous Ofsted work has indicated, the indiscriminate use of teaching assistants can represent very poor value for money, with little or even negative impact on learning.
School leaders and governors need to be careful about spending their resources on teaching assistants and be clear about what they want to achieve. This section gives examples of where inspectors saw teaching assistants being used most effectively. Where the teaching assistants who were employed using Pupil Premium funding were most effective in helping to improve pupils’ achievement, schools had:
- ensured that they thoroughly understood their role in helping to improve achievement
- trained their teaching assistants well to fulfil this role, and kept the training up to date
- extended or revised the teaching assistants’ hours to enable them to work with teachers to plan and review pupils’ learning
- placed the teaching assistants where data indicated that they were most needed to help pupils to catch up, rather than spreading them evenly among classes
- deployed the teaching assistants well to maximise their strengths with different subjects and age groups.
Ofsted is clear that teaching assistants, to be effective, must clearly understand their role, be well training, and also targeted at those classes most in need. Changing their hours to help them plan approaches with teachers is also a good idea, inspectors say.
One secondary school was concerned about the progress of low-attaining groups in year 7 who were not settling in well. Two primary-style classes were created where pupils spent more time with the same teachers and focused on literacy and numeracy. Many of these were Premium pupils, but not all, and well-trained higher level teaching assistants were used to develop their literacy and numeracy skills.
Strategy 4: Minimising barriers
Where schools had successfully begun to narrow the gaps in achievement between pupils who are eligible for the Pupil Premium and their peers they had often thought carefully about what barriers to learning pupils were experiencing, and how to remove or at least minimise them. Schools that had done this well had:
- thought about each pupil in the context of their home circumstances, asking themselves, for example, whether they needed to work closely with parents or support parents in some way in order to ensure that the pupil could succeed in schooln considered whether poor behaviour, high exclusions or low attendance were stopping individual pupils from achieving as much as they could
- reflected on ways in which they could better support older pupils to study independently outside of the school day
- worked to improve pupils’ social and emotional skills where these were barriers to learning
- ensured that low expectations were not a barrier to achievement by considering the potential of individuals and not settling for more-able pupils only reaching expected levels for their age just because they were eligible for the Pupil Premium.
Ofsted highlights the importance of a focus on pupils’ home circumstances and possible barriers such as poor behaviour, exclusions or low attendance. Social and emotional skills could also be an area where support is needed, while schools might need to engage more deeply with parents as well.
For one school in the study, poor attendance was causing problems of underachievement and so an experienced and well-qualified parental support advisor was appointed. The staff member worked with a “case load” of 20 pupils at a time to solve issues that were preventing attendance.
A “welcome to school” room was also set up and staffed by teaching assistants for “halfway house” pupils who were finding it difficult to return full-time.
Strategy 5: Meeting specific pupil’s needs
In addition to their broader strategies to improve academic achievement, schools often spent smaller amounts of the funding on meeting the specific needs of individuals, to keep them on track, prevent them from underachieving or broaden their horizons. Other schools considered how they could support the development of individuals’ particular talents and skills. When they did this well they did one or more of the following and then took carefully targeted action. They:
- used their broad knowledge of pupils and their families to identify potential barriers to individual pupils attaining their goals
- realised when talented pupils might not fulfil their potential in a particular subject or skill because of a lack of opportunities outside of school, or a lack of family finances
- recognised when pupils were at risk of underachieving because of particular circumstances
- carefully identified the gaps in the experiences that poorer pupils had compared to their more affluent peers, and the impact that this might have on their future
- considered how funding could be used to extend pupils’ experiences and skills beyond their academic gains.
The Premium could effectively be used to meet specific pupil’s needs, inspectors say. Schools should recognise when particular circumstances left pupils vulnerable to underachievement or where “gaps in experiences” due to poverty might have an impact.
A pupil who became temporarily looked-after in year 11 following a family trauma was supported in one school as her work began to suffer. It bought in counselling and other emotional support, as well as an individualised programme of additional teaching, including daily maths tuition, extra English lessons and support in PE (where she was predicted an A).
Strategy 6: Involve your governors
While governors had generally been informed about the Pupil Premium funding and what it had been spent on, they did not always play a full part in making decisions about its allocation, or discussing the impact of the actions taken. Where governors took an effective role in ensuring that the Pupil Premium was used well they:
- were fully involved from the outset in deciding on the way in which the funding would be allocated
- required a clear policy to be written about the Pupil Premium, and contributed to its content
- were committed to ensuring that every pupil, irrespective of starting point or background, achieved their potential, and used this principle to drive every discussion about the Pupil Premium
- asked challenging questions about how effective each action funded by the Pupil Premium was being in improving achievement
- told parents what the Pupil Premium was being spent on, and in the best examples, how well this was working.
Ofsted stresses the importance of involving governors in decision-making and praised governors who ask “challenging questions about how effective each action funded by the Premium was being”.
A case study shows governors visiting other schools to see Pupil Premium best practice in action, specific governing body committees being set-up to monitor and evaluate Premium spending, and governors having a good knowledge of how much of the money had been spent by the school and on what.
Strategy 7: Monitoring and evaluation
When schools effectively monitored and evaluated the impact of their Pupil Premium spending this made a considerable difference to the effectiveness of the actions they were taking. Where schools monitored the impact of their spending effectively and efficiently they:
- brought together all the evidence available to them to make judgements about what was going well and what needed to change, including data, pupils’ work, observations, case studies, and pupils’ and staff’s views
- did not wait until the end of an initiative or intervention to see if it was working
- made changes to their planned strategies according to what they learned from their monitoring and evaluation information
- took as rigorous an approach to evaluating the impact of pastoral interventions – those related to attendance, building confidence, improving behaviour, working with parents – as they did to academic ones.
Proper monitoring of Pupil Premium spending involved a wide range of data being looked at as a whole, Ofsted says. This includes achievement data, pupils’ work, observations, case studies and the views of pupils and staff. Effective monitoring meant that interventions and approaches could be changed or adapted quickly if they were not working. The effective evaluation of pastoral interventions for issues such as behaviour or attendance is also seen as vital.
Strategy 8: Summer schools with purpose
Secondary schools can bid for additional funding from the Pupil Premium fund to run a summer school, as well as receiving their usual Pupil Premium allocation. Generally, summer schools appeared to be at an early stage of development and overall were not seen to be making a meaningful impact for disadvantaged pupils. Schools were not always clear about the intended outcomes of the summer school or which specific pupils the activities were intended to benefit. The best aspects of the summer schools identified from the visits were that secondary schools had sometimes:
- ensured that the aims of the summer school were clear from the outset and used these aims to guide the formulation of a relevant programme
- worked closely with their feeder primary schools to ensure that the ‘target audience’ of pupils was correctly identified and contacted
- included opportunities for the development of basic skills as well as for social skills in the summer school programme
- carried out a full evaluation of the summer school which measured the short and medium term impact on its stated aims, and had plans to measure the longer term impact during the course of the year
- involved primary schools in the planning and delivery of the programme and shared with them an evaluation of the project subsequently.
Secondary schools can bid for additional funding to run summer schools for students moving from year 6 into year 7, and while inspectors noted that many projects were at an early stage of development, they were concerned that schools were not always clear about the intended outcomes. The best examples, they said, were summer schools that had clear aims, worked closely with feeder primaries, and included opportunities for pupils to develop basic skills as well as social skills.
General characteristics of a well-spent Pupil Premium
- carefully ringfenced the funding so that they always spent it on the target group of pupils
- never confused eligibility for the Pupil Premium with low ability, and focused on supporting their disadvantaged pupils to achieve the highest levels
- thoroughly analysed which pupils were underachieving, particularly in English and mathematics, and why
- drew on research evidence (such as the Sutton Trust toolkit4) and evidence from their own and others’ experience to allocate the funding to the activities that were most likely to have an impact on improving achievement
- understood the importance of ensuring that all day-to-day teaching meets the needs of each learner, rather than relying on interventions to compensate for teaching that is less than good
- allocated their best teachers to teach intervention groups to improve mathematics and English, or employed new teachers who had a good track record in raising attainment in those subjects
- used achievement data frequently to check whether interventions or techniques were working and made adjustments accordingly, rather than just using the data retrospectively to see if something had worked
- made sure that support staff, particularly teaching assistants, were highly trained and understood their role in helping pupils to achieve
- systematically focused on giving pupils clear, useful feedback about their work, and ways that they could improve itn ensured that a designated senior leader had a clear overview of how the funding was being allocated and the difference it was making to the outcomes for pupils
- ensured that class and subject teachers knew which pupils were eligible for the Pupil Premium so that they could take responsibility for accelerating their progress
- had a clear policy on spending the Pupil Premium, agreed by governors and publicised on the school website
- provided well-targeted support to improve attendance, behaviour or links with families where these were barriers to a pupil’s learning
- had a clear and robust performance management system for all staff, and included discussions about pupils eligible for the Pupil Premium in performance management meetings
- thoroughly involved governors in the decision making and evaluation process
- were able, through careful monitoring and evaluation, to demonstrate the impact of each aspect of their spending on the outcomes for pupils.
General characteristics of a poorly-spent Pupil Premium
- had a lack of clarity about the intended impact of the spending
- spent the funding indiscriminately on teaching assistants, with little impact
- did not monitor the quality and impact of interventions well enough, even where other monitoring was effective
- did not have a good performance management system for teaching assistants and other support staff
- did not have a clear audit trail for where the funding had been spent
- focused on pupils attaining the nationally expected level at the end of the key stage (Level 4, five A* to C grades at GCSE) but did not go beyond these expectations, so some more able eligible pupils underachieved
- planned their Pupil Premium spending in isolation to their other planning, for example, it was not part of the school development plan
- compared their performance to local rather than national data, which suppressed expectations if they were in a low-performing local authority
- compared the performance of their pupils who were eligible for free school meals with other eligible pupils nationally, rather than all pupils, again lowering expectations
- did not focus their pastoral work on the desired outcomes for pupils and did not have any evidence to show themselves whether the work had or had not been effective
- did not have governors involved in making decisions about the Pupil Premium, or challenging the way in which it was allocated.