The Pupil Premium is designed to support the learning and wellbeing of disadvantaged pupils. Unfortunately, however, the ongoing funding crisis means that many schools are being left with no option but to use significant proportions of their Pupil Premium allowance to sustain their core provision, thus preventing the funding from being used for its intended purpose.
That said, Pupil Premium shouldn’t be the only driver for improving outcomes among eligible pupils. According to the EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, the strategies able to make the biggest difference to learning don’t necessarily require additional funding, but are rather features of quality first teaching such as high-quality feedback, metacognition, mastery teaching and collaborative learning.
At a time of financial strain in schools, it’s important that these be explored as much as possible before looking at specific spending strands.
Having seen first-hand the struggles schools go through to establish the best use of any funding they’re given and evaluate its outcomes, we as a trust have implemented a strategy to ensure the money we spend benefits identified pupils, the school as a whole, and where possible, the wider trust.
We’ve worked collectively to raise the profile of disadvantaged pupils and ensure our Pupil Premium funding is used effectively. Each academy appoints a Pupil Premium Champion, often a senior leader, who has oversight of these children and supports all staff in ensuring the deficit of learning or experience is closed.
We also have a Pupil Premium Charter that clearly outlines our trust-wide vision for disadvantaged pupils and our commitment to them. Key to this has been the development of excellent teachers and support staff to ensure all pupils have access to effective strands of research.
My role is to oversee these activities and support our leaders in evaluating the impact of their spending. Across our 15 schools, the percentage of eligible pupils ranges from 13% to 41%. With the context and needs of disadvantaged children differing from school to school, it’s important that the academies are given autonomy to interpret those needs in the way that best suits their pupils (albeit within the vision, key principles and high expectations that underpin the trust’s approach).
It’s understandable why Pupil Premium might be used to try and alleviate immediate crises, rather than the longer term issues it was intended to tackle. But questions remain over how schools can balance their ability to keep their settings running smoothly and safely, with ensuring that disadvantage doesn’t present barriers to lifelong success.
Donna Tandy is academy improvement partner at Focus Trust – a multi-academy trust based in the North West, made up of schools from across West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.