The move from primary to secondary school can be difficult for many children. For youngsters from challenging and disadvantaged backgrounds, who will comprise the pioneering cohort in a brand new secondary school, that prospect may be even more daunting.
With this in mind, the founders of Hackney New School (HNS) in north London, welcomed new pupils by organising a summer camp, preceded by mentoring sessions for the most vulnerable, to set them on the right track and prepare them for what lies ahead.
“We used our Pupil Premium money to prepare new students for coming to the school, and targeted the most deprived,” said Phillippa De’Ath, the school’s founder and director of programme.
“We felt that mentoring them in their final weeks at primary and then organising a summer school during the holiday was the ideal way to nurture them, while creating a bit of adventure around the experience.”
HNS will take pupils from more than 50 feeder primary schools, and expect about half of its year 7 cohort to be eligible for Pupil Premium funding. Eventually the school will grow to about 700 students. As the school opened its doors for the very first time in September, staff were still trying to establish how much Pupil Premium funding it is likely to attract as information continued to come in about its students’ backgrounds.
“In all about 40 pupils, many with special needs, were mentored about coming here and given fairly basic information about what they could expect as well as being given short taster lessons to give them a flavour,” Ms De’Ath said.
About 65 also attended summer school, taking part in academic and creative activities.
“It was wonderful to see friendships being forged among pupils and knowing that they were being prepared for the focused and rigorous academic programme they started this month.”
Exactly how to spend the Pupil Premium can be problematic for schools, and making the best use of the money and finding the most effective strategies, while staying within the budget, is not easy.
Furthermore, Ofsted will now pay much closer scrutiny to the outcomes of Pupil Premium spending, including among pupils who are highly able but come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The educational charity, the Sutton Trust, together with the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), has created a Toolkit outlining the most effective and cost-efficient ways of spending the funding. Based on evidence contained in 5,500 studies and pieces of research into what works and what does not, it is aimed at helping schools make informed spending decisions.
At the top of the list is teacher feedback, which can add up to eight months of progress, across a year, followed by peer tutoring, which adds six months. One-to-one tuition, meanwhile, will help a child progress by five months but has been found to be expensive because it requires the hiring of additional staff.
Other effective approaches include the effective use of homework (also listed as one of the most cost-effective strategies) and collaborative learning, which both add five months’ progress, and small group tuition, and behaviour interventions, which have been shown to add four months’ progress.
While mentoring sessions and a summer school were effective for HNS, The Warriner School in Bloxham, Oxfordshire, uses entirely different approaches.
The majority of the current £141,000-a-year Pupil Premium funding at the 1,000-pupil secondary goes on staffing.
At the start of this term, Dr Annabel Kay, the headteacher, has employed two graduates who will work as role-models and mentors to young people in maths and English, both in the classroom and running after-school activities. The school also employs a higher level teaching assistant for literacy and numeracy to do targeted work with those who need it most, and a student mentor – an unqualified teacher who assists students with important aspects, such as time-management and revision skills, to help them succeed.
Any money that is left tends to be spent on tailored interventions and activities, often aimed at individual students. For example, one particularly bright girl, who was eligible for Pupil Premium funding, was sent on a course at Oxford Brookes University to encourage her to consider doing a degree. The money may also be used to buy particular resources, such as books or revision guides.
“Some pupils have no books at home, but we know that where children read they perform better at school,” Dr Kay said. Pupil Premium money has been used to create a quiet, secluded corner of the school library, where students can read in peace without being observed by their peers.
“For some of our pupils it isn’t cool to like books, so it’s somewhere students who want to read can go and be out of sight.”
Dr Kay realises that the strategies used at The Warriner School do not necessarily equate with those deemed to be most effective in the Sutton Trust and EEF’s Toolkit. She believes there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and every school has to consider how best to spend the Pupil Premium, depending on the needs of students and the resources and facilities it already has in place.
“I realise that we probably have too many teaching assistants, and that they are often seen as a crutch for teachers, but we have used them for one-to-one and small group work and, through our testing and tracking processes, we know they have had a positive impact on some pupils.
“However, we have never been able to implement peer-mentoring, for example, even though we know from research that this works because, until this term, we have not had a 6th form. But this is something we plan to look at in the future once the 6th form has become more established.
“Every school has to make difficult decisions based on their own experiences, the expertise available and the needs of pupils. Most of us are still learning what works best.”
Robbie Coleman, research and communications manager for the EEF, said the Toolkit should be used to help schools use their money effectively, but it was not intended to solve every school’s problems.
“The solutions outlined in the evidence will not necessarily suit every school, but it may be useful for heads and teachers to know that teachers in other schools have found it difficult to get an impact from that particular strategy,” he said.
“In the case of teaching assistants for example, it could be that a school might want to spend its Pupil Premium funding on training up the support staff it already has, rather than hiring any more of them.
“The idea of the Toolkit is that schools look at the evidence and consider how that might apply to them, and how they might implement the strategies that it contains.
“It is aimed at helping schools to make informed decisions, and to get the maximum educational bang out of their buck, rather than telling them what to do. When considering how they spend the Pupil Premium schools need to evaluate whether what they want to happen, will happen if they implement that strategy.”
Further informationThe professionals featured in this article are among the headline speakers at the conference, Pupil Premium: Best Practice in Action, which will be held in central London on September 24. For more information, visit www.philipallanupdates.co.uk, call 01869 336410 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education journalist.