Has something gone wrong with the Pupil Premium, as Jonathan Calder suggests? Some quick thoughts from me…

by Stephen Tall on March 14, 2012

Jonathan Calder has an interesting post at his Liberal England blog tracing the evolution of the pupil premium, and asks if its lost its initial guiding purpose:

The Pupil Premium seems to have dwindled into a scheme that positions the poor child as a social problem who needs more money spent on him. But if that child is in a bad school then it is hard to believe that another two weeks in the classroom or a bit more money for that school is going to make much difference.

You can read Jonathan’s post in full here.

I’ve posted a comment to his blog with the following thoughts:

    1) The pupil premium is still new so its impact has yet to feed through into school leaders’ decisions. In its first year (2011) it was £430 per pupil. By the end of the parliament this will have doubled but this inevitably creates a lag. Also in its original Lib Dem format it was hoped the pupil premium value would be up to £2,500 a child — if that had been realised then it would certainly have started to encourage schools to start actively encouraging children from poorer backgrounds to apply to them.

    2) The summer schools [Nick Clegg’s £50m initiative referred to in Jonathan’s post] are only a very small part of the pupil premium funding, announced last summer by Nick Clegg as a direct response to the riots. You’re right that if the pupil premium was just about this one intitiative it would be a bit of a damp squib.

    3) The point of the pupil premium is to try and raise the attainment levels of free school meal children, and narrow the gaps between the rich and poor. You can see the extent of the challenge here in this post by the FT’s Chris Cook, though there’s more encouraging analysis of the school effect here from Becky Allen.

    4) The bigger problem with the pupil premium is showing that the money being ploughed into the system is actually making a difference. Because it’s not ring-fenced there’s a risk it’ll be used generally by schools rather than for the target demographic. Quick plug for my employer, the Education Endowment Foundation, which is trying to show what approaches work best in raising attainment levels: http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/toolkit/

    5) The big point, I think, is that school structures (academies, free schools etc) — though the bit of education which is focused on most by politicians — aren’t as important as working out how learning in the classroom can be improved for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The pupil premium is designed to pay for the extra intervention for poorer children that ‘middle-class’ children mostly already receive.