It is 8 years since Pupil Premium was introduced. In that time, £10billion has been spent on the initiative and the question: “What are you doing differently for your pupil premium students?” has been asked countless times of teachers up and down the land. An equally unfathomable number of reports, spreadsheets and analyses of all shapes and sizes have been diligently completed by teachers in that time.
And the result? Failure.
It’s time for truth. It’s time we faced up to the some cold, hard facts.
Independent research shows that the attainment gap hasn’t narrowed
Numbers can be ‘interpreted’ and statistics can be spun. Politicians are the masters of it, but independent researchers, Education Datalab, concluded that pupils eligible for FSM (free school meals) have seen attainment falling, relative to the national average.
Why has Pupil Premium failed?
You could argue that Pupil Premium was doomed to failure from the outset.
Why? Well, research suggests that schools can actually impact only around 20% of a pupil’s educational attainment, so the sort of improvement that the Pupil Premium was expected to achieve was ‘pie in the sky’ from the off.
Parenting and the home environment that pupils find themselves in are much more important factors that have a far greater impact on attainment.
Pupil Premium, like many educational initiatives – whilst well-meaning – was critically flawed from the start and ill thought-through. It also means that many of the multitude of Pupil Premium projects that schools have undertaken have been time/cost intensive, but ultimately low impact.
Pupil Premium – Just another layer of accountability
Part of the problem, as is often the case, is Ofsted – or more accurately, the fear of Ofsted. Inspectors are told to take particular account of the progress that disadvantaged pupils make in relation to their starting points.
There is nothing unsurprising or unfair about this, but the way that some schools have responded has been questionable at best. Pupil Premium has essentially created yet another layer of accountability.
A Pupil Premium rethink is needed
Doing all we can to support parents and to improve the home environment will have more impact on results than the current Pupil Premium. Strategies that focus on boosting home literacy and parent/child relationships in pre-school years are crucial. Studies shows that the attainment gap starts at a young age. It widens as children move through each key stage, but it is vital to focus on those early years to prevent the gap from emerging in the first place.
The second emphasis needs to be on teachers themselves. Whilst it is crucial that people realise that schools cannot be expected to do everything, it’s equally important to admit that with the current recruitment and retention crisis, the chances of disadvantaged pupils bridging the attainment gap are slim.
A succession of supply teachers never does anything to boost attainment. A workforce that is demoralised never performs at its best. Recruitment, retention and training of teachers will have a real impact in the long run.
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