Key Stage 3: Effective use of the Pupil Premium

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This article was written for SecEd magazine and first published in November 2016.  You can read the original version on the SecEd website here.  

You can read more of my monthly columns for SecEd here


In Ofsted’s 2015 report, Key Stage 3: The Wasted Years? it was suggested, among other areas, that schools are not using Pupil Premium funding effectively to close gaps quickly in years 7, 8 and 9.

The Pupil Premium

The Pupil Premium is money given to schools to help disadvantaged pupils. Ofsted said that while schools prioritise their Pupil Premium spending in key stage 4, they do not use the funding effectively in key stage 3 to ensure that gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers continue to close following transition to secondary school.

However, this is a vicious cycle because if you focus your time and resources in key stage 4, and thus neglect key stage 3, then the gap will widen in the intervening years and that time and money will be needed simply to compensate for ineffective practice in the earlier phase of secondary education.

If, however, the Pupil Premium is used effectively at key stage 3 and pupils are supported through high-quality teaching and interventions, then they will be provided with a better springboard to GCSE and fewer remedial actions will be needed in years 10 and 11.

Before we look at how the Pupil Premium might best be utilised in key stage 3, let’s be clear on who the funding is for and how it can legally be spent.

Pupil Premium funding is awarded to pupils who are categorised as “Ever 6 FSM”. For the 2016/17 academic year, for example, the funding will be given to pupils who are recorded in the January 2016 school census who are known to have been eligible for free school meals (FSM) in any of the previous six years (in other words, since the summer of 2010), as well as those first known to be eligible in January 2016.

Pupil Premium funding is also awarded to pupils who are adopted from care or who have left care. For the 2016/17 academic year, for example, the funding will be given to pupils who are recorded in the January 2016 school census and alternative provision census who were looked after by an English or Welsh local authority immediately before being adopted, or who left local authority care on a special guardianship order or child arrangements order (previously known as a residence order).

Finally, Pupil Premium funding is awarded to pupils who are categorised as “Ever 5 service child”, which means a pupil recorded in the January 2016 school census who was eligible for the service child premium in any of the previous four years (since the January 2012 school census) as well as those recorded as a service child for the first time in January 2016.

The Pupil Premium and Ofsted

Schools are held to account for how they spend the money and the impact that money has on closing the gap. For example, Ofsted inspections report on how a school’s use of the funding affects the attainment of their disadvantaged pupils and the Department for Education (DfE) holds a school to account through performance tables, which include data on the attainment of pupils who attract the funding, the progress they make, and the gap in attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.

Ofsted’s Common Inspection Handbook (2015) explains that when judging the effectiveness of leadership and management, inspectors will consider: “How effectively leaders use additional funding, including the Pupil Premium, and measure its impact on outcomes for pupils, and how effectively governors hold them to account for this.”

The Pupil Premium is also mentioned in the grade descriptors for leadership and management. The “outstanding” grade descriptors, for example, include the following: “Governors systematically challenge senior leaders so that the effective deployment of staff and resources, including the Pupil Premium and SEN funding, secures excellent outcomes for pupils.

“Governors do not shy away from challenging leaders about variations in outcomes for pupil groups, especially between disadvantaged and other pupils.”

In the “good” grade descriptors, meanwhile, it says: “Governors hold senior leaders stringently to account for all aspects of the school’s performance, including the use of Pupil Premium and SEN funding, ensuring that the skilful deployment of staff and resources delivers good or improving outcomes for pupils.”

When preparing for an inspection, the lead inspector will analyse information on the school’s website, including its statement on the use of the Pupil Premium.

The lead inspector will also request that any reports following an external review of the school’s use of the Pupil Premium are made available at the start of the inspection.

During the inspection, inspectors will gather evidence about the use of the Pupil Premium in relation to the following: the level of Pupil Premium funding received by the school that academic year and in previous years; how the school has spent the money and why it has decided to spend it in the way it has; any differences made to the learning and progress of disadvantaged pupils as shown by outcomes data and inspection evidence.

Inspectors will take particular account of the progress made by disadvantaged pupils by the end of the key stage compared with that made nationally by other pupils with similar starting points, and the extent to which any gaps in this progress, and consequently in attainment, are closing.

Inspectors will compare the progress and attainment of the school’s disadvantaged pupils with the national figures for the progress and attainment of non-disadvantaged pupils. They will then consider in-school gaps between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils, and how much these gaps are closing.

It is worth noting that inspectors are likely to compare the progress of disadvantaged pupils with all non-disadvantaged pupils, not just with those who have similar starting points, because if inspectors only compared the progress and attainment of pupils who started at a similar level, they would be unable to establish if gaps in attainment between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils were closing.

Inspectors will check that the reason the gap is narrowing is because the attainment and progress of disadvantaged pupils is rising, rather than that of non-disadvantaged pupils falling. If an attainment gap exists or widens, inspectors will also consider whether this is because disadvantaged pupils attain more highly than others do nationally, but non-disadvantaged pupils in the school attain even more highly.

The Common Inspection Framework says “these circumstances would not reflect negatively on the school”.

Key questions for key stage 3 leaders

In light of all this, I would recommend that leaders of key stage 3 prepare for any inspection or Department for Education visit by asking themselves the following:

  • Did I focus sufficiently on literacy and numeracy interventions?
  • Did I work with primary feeders to identify pupils who might benefit from summer schools, nurture groups, etc?
  • Did I target my best teachers at my most disadvantaged pupils?
  • Did I apply for top-up summer school funding?
  • Do all my teachers know who was eligible for Pupil Premium funding? Did they and governors know how that funding was used and what impact it had?
  • Where do pupils do their homework and independent study? If they live in chaotic homes, do we provide a quiet space with support? Have I involved parents in making sure pupils use it?
  • What happened after I looked at the data? What interventions did it lead to and what was their impact? What have I learnt?
  • Did I have gaps between exclusion and attendance rates as well as attainment gaps?
  • Is a senior leader at my school responsible for Pupil Premium funding? Do we also have a governor responsible for it?
  • Did higher (and lower) attaining pupils make as much progress as non-FSM? (The Pupil Premium is not just there to get pupils up to age-related minimum expectations.)
  • What did I use as a benchmark when I compared our performance to other schools? (Don’t just compare FSM pupils to other FSM pupils, look beyond local authority figures to national standards.)
  • How did I evaluate pastoral interventions?
  • When did I review my interventions? Did I track, review and improve our provision as I went along rather than wait until the end?

The answers to these questions can provide the basis for your Pupil Premium action plan. What do you need to do now in order to be fully prepared for inspection? Above all, remember this: know thy impact!

Good practice

As you start working towards your action plan, what should you be aiming for? What’s your end goal? What does good practice in this area look like?

Schools that use the Pupil Premium funding effectively at key stage 3 and close the gap tend to conduct a detailed analysis of where pupils are underachieving and why. They make good use of research evidence when choosing support and intervention activities.

However, schools that use the Pupil Premium effectively focus on high-quality teaching, rather than relying on interventions to compensate, because they know that pedagogy trumps all – getting it right first time is the best approach and teaching matters more than curriculum. They ensure that their best teachers lead English and maths intervention groups.

They make frequent use of achievement data in order to check the effectiveness of interventions and they do this early and continue to do it throughout the year rather than waiting until the intervention has finished and it is too late to change it.

These schools also tend to have a systematic focus on clear pupil feedback and pupils receive regular advice to help them improve their work. These schools have a designated senior leader with a clear overview of the funding allocation and a solid understanding of how the funding works and how it needs reporting.

All the teachers in these schools are aware of the pupils who are eligible for Pupil Premium funding and they take responsibility for those pupils’ progress. These schools have strategies in place for improving attendance, behaviour and links with families and communities if these are an issue, as well as for improving academic performance.

And, finally, these schools ensure that the performance management of staff includes discussions about the Pupil Premium and about individual pupils in receipt of the funding and how they are progressing.

Bad practice

Conversely, in schools where the Pupil Premium isn’t used effectively and is not tracked well enough, there tends to be a lack of clarity about the intended impact of interventions. These schools run the same intervention strategies year after year because that’s just what they are used to doing or have the staff and resources for, irrespective of whether or not they work.

There is no real monitoring of the quality and impact of the interventions and no real awareness of what works and what offers the best value for money. These schools also tend to spend the money indiscriminately on teaching assistants who are then not well deployed or utilised.

The schools whose Pupil Premium practice is ineffective also tend to have an unclear audit trail and focus solely on pupils attaining the Level 4 benchmarks not higher. They tend to spend the Pupil Premium in isolation, it does not feature as part of the whole-school development plan and decisions about it are not therefore taken in the round.

These schools also compare their performance to local, not national, data. Pupil Premium funding is used for pastoral interventions but they are vague and not focused on desired outcomes for pupils. And, finally, in these schools, governors are not involved in taking decisions about Pupil Premium spending and are not informed about its use and impact.

What to report

Schools need to report on how much Pupil Premium funding they received in the current academic year and how they intend to spend the funding. They need to be able to articulate their reasons and evidence for this. Schools also need to report on how they spent the funding they received for the last academic year and what difference it made to the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.

The funding is allocated for each financial year, but the information schools publish online should refer to the academic year as this is how parents and the general public understand the school year. As schools won’t know how much funding they’re getting for the latter part of the academic year (from April to July), they should report on the funding up to the end of the financial year then update the information when they have all the data.

If the school receives year 7 literacy and numeracy catch-up premium funding, they must also publish details of how they spend this and the effect this has had on the attainment of the pupils who attract it.


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