Fraser Nelson attacks pupil premium using report that, erm, doesn’t attack pupil premium

by Stephen Tall on April 26, 2013

fraser nelsonFraser Nelson is in bold form today: Spending more doesn’t improve public services.

His basis for this judgement is a report prepared for the Department for Education by Deloitte (available here). If there’s a headline conclusion it’s the fairly uncontentious point that simply spending money on schools does not, in itself, guarantee good outcomes. It matters at least as much how you spend it.

So far, so obvious. And if Fraser’s article had stuck to that basic conclusion it would’ve been fine. But he wanted to make a different point, so spun the report accordingly.

Here’s Fraser over at the Spectator claiming, incorrectly, that the report is fatal for the Lib Dems’ pupil premium policy, which targets additional money at children from disadvantaged backgrounds (those eligible for free school meals):

This was devastating for the Pupil Premium policy: the Lib Dems’ flagship education policy was based on a false (and, now, disproven) premise. … In other words: cease and desist, Mr Laws, your idea sounds good but the cash doesn’t work. You’re on a hiding to nothing. If you have a billion quid, spend it on something that helps pupils — not something that Nick Clegg can use as an applause line in speeches.

Contrast Fraser’s definitive ‘this is a failed policy’ with Deloitte’s actual findings.

First, they make a particular point of saying what their report does NOT claim:

It may be helpful to clarify what is not being claimed. … We do not claim that the school funding system (or the pupil premium specifically) is fundamentally flawed, only that there is no correlation at all between the level of per pupil funding and educational outcomes. (p.14)

Deloitte also explicitly point out the limits of the data their analysis is based on…

Our analysis considers the impact of some of these policies on pupil performance at KS4, subject to data availability with the caveat that our analysis is not longitudinal but a ‘snap shot’ of the most recent academic year for which there is complete data (2010-11).

… and point out that it is too soon to say whether new initiatives like the pupil premium will work…

Thus, while the impact of the Academies programme, which has been in operation for a number of years, is likely to be observable, for other more recent policies, such as Free Schools or the Pupil Premium, not enough time will have elapsed to identify their potential impact on educational outcomes. (p.16)

…so recommend further research…

that takes advantage of the longitudinal nature of the NPD to answer questions such as: … Is the Pupil Premium effective in improving performance? (p.15)

So let’s run that past Fraser again, as he missed it first time around… Deloitte do not claim their analysis shows the pupil premium won’t work; they also say it’s too soon to know whether it will work; and they propose further research in the future so its success can be judged.

And if you want to read more about why I think the pupil premium is an effective (and, for that matter, liberal) way to improve educational outcomes for all, including children from disadvantaged backgrounds, here’s what I wrote six months ago: The pupil premium isn’t a quick-fix solution, it’s a long-haul policy.

Full disclosure: I work for a charity which focuses on improving educational outcomes for children from low-income backgrounds. This post (as with all my postings on LDV) is written in a personal capacity.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.