Can the Pupil Premium level the playing field?

This post is inspired by the #SLTchat discussion on Sunday 16th April, hosted by Russell Hobby of the NAHT. The discussion focussed on the impact of economic disadvantage on education and issues around the pupil premium grant (PPG).

The PPG is vital funding for many schools. Around a third of the pupils at my school are eligible for the PPG, so it’s a considerable component of the overall budget and vital for our provision for disadvantaged pupils.

Good teaching or special interventions?

There seemed to be agreement among participants that focussed allocation of PPG funds is crucial to raising standards for this group of students. At the same time, many contributors, commented against interventions and put forward the view that great teaching was the way to close the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.

There are a couple of points I’d like to make here. As I said in the #SLTchat discussion, if good teaching / good schools was enough, then parental income at birth shouldn’t be the indicator of GCSE success that it is. Any definition of good teaching must include strategies that enable all pupils to succeed, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This work needs to be personalised, targeting the actual needs of individual students. I can understand a frustration with short-term interventions that can end up labelling disadvantaged students, aren’t tailored to individual needs (“You’re getting extra maths because you get the PP”). However, interventions that are set up to overcome specific barriers to learning for identified students are very different indeed. Those barriers might include being hungry, not having equipment, having fallen behind in a key area of learning, or having a limited range of educational or employment backgrounds within the family.

At St Gregory’s we arrange our PPG-funded work into three strands – Nurture, achievement and aspiration. I have written more about this here.

Signing up – a job for schools? 

Many contributors to the discussion clearly felt that schools were distracted from this vital work with students by having to advertise the advantages of the PPG and encourage parents and carers to come forward and sign up. I agree that this shouldn’t be a job for schools, nor should it be a source of embarrassment for families. The government have the information about who is eligible, and which schools pupils attend. It should be possible to match the two centrally to allocate the PPG.

Working together

Our monitoring data indicates that were are closing the gap, but that there is still a long way to go. As Stephen Tierney commented in #SLTchat, other services and agencies should be involved in supporting disadvantaged students and their families, not just schools. In my experience when this works it works very well and can be truly transformational. Unfortunately it seems that all too often, funding limitations and / or recruitment difficulties restrict this effective multi-agency work to reacting to the most serious cases. Just imagine what we could achieve if multi-agency teams had the time, resources and personnel to work together proactively from the start of a child’s educational journey.

As always, I value any constructive comments or suggestions you may have.