This article was written for School Inspection + Improvement Magazine and first published in January 2017. You can read the full version on the SI+I website here.
- The attainment gap is detectable at an early age and is multi-racial.
- Effective assessment and tracking are key to closing the gap.
- Pedagogy matters more than any other intervention strategy.
- Schools should be able to demonstrate how pupil premium funding is spent and why.
- Ofsted is interested in any differences made to the learning and progress of disadvantaged pupils as shown by outcomes data.
Mind the gap
One in four children in the UK grows up in poverty. The attainment gap between rich and poor is detectable from as early as 22 months and continues to widen throughout the education system.
Children from the lowest-income homes are half as likely to get five good GCSEs and go on to higher education as the national average. White working-class pupils (particularly boys) are among the lowest performers. The link between poverty and attainment is multi-racial.
The effective use of pupil premium (PP) funding is an essential aid in closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their non-disadvantaged peers. Schools need to ensure that they are making the best use of the school’s money and demonstrating its impact on pupil outcomes.
The progress of every pupil who is in receipt of the funding should be monitored and interventions should be put into place in a timely manner as soon as their progress falters. Schools need to be sure that those interventions are the most effective strategies they can use and offer the best value for money for the public purse.
Pupil premium: common pitfalls
In schools where the PP 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 what they’re used to doing or have the staff and resources for, irrespective of whether or not they work
- do not monitor the quality and impact of the interventions and are not aware of what works and what offers the best value for money
- spend the money indiscriminately on teaching assistants who are not well utilised
- have an unclear audit trail and focus solely on pupils attaining the Level 4 benchmarks, not higher
- spend the PP in isolation – it does not feature as part of the whole-school development plan, so decisions about it are not taken in a whole-school context
- compare the school’s performance with local, not national, data
- use the funding for pastoral interventions, but these are vague and not focused on desired outcomes for pupils
- do not involve governors in making decisions about PP spending and do not inform governors about its use and impact.
Data is more than just a spreadsheet
Recognising assessment in its widest sense, and taking information from as many sources as possible, enables data to become a rich and meaningful conversation.
The effective use of data to monitor and evaluate pupil progress and facilitate rich conversations lies at the heart of good assessment; good assessment, in turn, lies at the heart of successful, targeted PP practice. So what does this look like?
Good PP practice means:
- identifying and unpicking data in order to analyse the progress of PP pupils
- auditing the effectiveness of past and current PP interventions
- discussing barriers with staff and pupils, asking them what they think the priorities are
- raising the profile of PP research and potential solutions, using external evidence of what works, and identifying the tools and strategies that are needed
- building leadership capacity to make sustainable improvements and strengthen the school’s own performance capability
- developing a PP plan and demonstrating its links to the school’s core aims.
Pedagogy trumps all
When it comes to closing the gap between the educational achievement of disadvantaged pupils and their non-disadvantaged peers, what matters most is pedagogy – if schools get teaching and learning in the classroom right first time, there is less need for intervention later.
In particular, what works best for those in receipt of the PP is structured phonics instruction, cooperative learning, frequent assessment and feedback, and the explicit teaching of metacognition.
Other proven whole-school approaches for those in receipt of the PP include:
- the rigorous monitoring and use of progress data
- raising pupil aspirations by using engagement programmes
- engaging parents and raising parental aspirations
- developing pupils’ social and emotional competencies
- coaching teachers and teaching assistants in specific strategies, such as cooperative learning, frequent assessment and metacognition.
The pupil premium and Ofsted
Ofsted’s School Inspection Handbook (2016) 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 PP 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 special educational needs (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.’
When preparing for an inspection, the lead inspector will analyse information on the school’s website, including the statement on how the PP is used. The lead inspector will also request any reports following an external review of the use of the PP.
During the inspection, inspectors will gather evidence about the use of the PP in relation to the following:
- the level of PP funding received by the school in the academic year in which the school is inspected, as well as previous years
- how the school has spent the money and why it has decided to spend it this way
- 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. They will also look to see the extent to which any gaps in this progress, and consequently in attainment, are closing.
Inspectors will compare the progress and attainment of 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’s 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. This is 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 are closing.
Inspectors will also 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.
How to report impact
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