National Audit Office verdict on Pupil Premium: “potential to bring about a significant improvement in outcomes for disadvantaged pupils”

by Stephen Tall on June 30, 2015

school 11

Six months ago I wrote:

I think [the Pupil Premium is] one of this Coalition’s most progressive policies. But expecting its impact to be sudden and dramatic is to over-hype it. What I suspect it has done is focus schools’ attention on the attainment gap and to address it in ways that go beyond, and do not depend on, the value of the Pupil Premium itself.

Today sees the publication of an important report from the National Audit Office, Funding for disadvantaged pupils, which highlights both these points.

First, that any impact of the Pupil Premium will, inevitably, take time to feed into better outcomes for disadvantaged pupils:

The attainment gap has narrowed slowly since 2011 but the gap remains wide and it will take time for the Pupil Premium’s impact to become clear. Success in some schools indicates that the Pupil Premium has promise. However, the Department does not expect the full impact of funding to be felt until 2018 for primary schools and 2023 for secondary schools – the years, respectively, when eligible pupils will have been funded for their entire education. Changing exam standards make analysing the attainment gap difficult at this early stage. Between 2011 and 2014 the gap reduced by 4.7 percentage points in primary schools. In secondary schools, it reduced by 1.6 percentage points, although exam standards were measured differently in 2014. A clear trend has not yet been established and the gap remains wide – in 2014 some 63.5% of disadvantaged pupils failed to achieve five good GCSEs including English and Maths, compared with 36% of their peers

And secondly, that the Pupil Premium is only part of the picture — after all, it’s estimated that core funding local authorities allocate to schools on the
basis of deprivation totalled £2.4 billion in 2014-15 (that’s completely separate from the £2.5 billion of Pupil Premium schools received direct). What matters at least as much, then, is how schools prioritise the specific aim of the Pupil Premium — raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils — as core to their work. Here the NAO report is clearer about the policy’s impact:

Introducing the Pupil Premium has increased school leaders’ focus on improving outcomes for disadvantaged children. Of school leaders, 57% said they targeted support at disadvantaged pupils before the creation of the Pupil Premium, compared with 94% now

Here’s the report’s key (and measured) conclusion on the impact of the Pupil Premium:

It will take time for the full impact of the Pupil Premium to be known. While the attainment gap has narrowed since 2011, it remains wide and, at this stage, the significance of the improvements is unclear. More time and further evaluation will be needed to establish whether the Department has achieved its goals. However, the early signs are that many schools, supported by the Department’s investment in the EEF [Education Endowment Foundation], are using the Pupil Premium to help disadvantaged pupils in useful ways. If these schools’ early performance can be sustained and built upon, the Pupil Premium has the potential to bring about a significant improvement in outcomes for disadvantaged pupils and the value for money of school spending.

Full disclosure: I work for the Education Endowment Foundation, referenced throughout the National Audit Office’s report, and was one of those interviewed as part of the NAO’s evidence-gathering audit.

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