To look for differences in how schools are approaching the Pupil Premium, we reviewed the types of articles that our members in schools judged “good”, “outstanding”, and also “requiring improvement” were reading in autumn 2013.
For each of these groups, we ranked the most popular articles across the term. We found that several articles about the Pupil Premium featured in the top 20 list for school leaders in good and outstanding schools.
However, no articles on the Pupil Premium were in the top 20 for members in schools judged as requiring improvement. Members in these schools were far more likely to read articles about staff issues, assessment and floor standards than they were articles about the Pupil Premium.
For example, in the autumn term an article on inspection of Pupil Premium spending was the 14th most popular for members in good schools and was number 21 on the list for those in outstanding schools. For our members in schools judged requiring improvement, the same article was outside the top 50.
Pupil Premium allocation is based, among other things, on the number of pupils in each school registered as eligible for free school meals. Schools with a higher proportion of these pupils will receive more funding, so we might expect leaders in these schools to be more interested in the Pupil Premium.
To drill down further into the figures, for the autumn 2013 period, we looked at how likely members were to click on an article about the Pupil Premium and compared this with the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals in their schools. We discovered some interesting trends.
Members in schools with the lowest proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals were most interested in articles on the Pupil Premium. Members in schools with the highest proportion were the least interested, while those in schools with middling proportions of eligible pupils were in-between.
Research published by the Department for Education that evaluated schools’ use of Pupil Premium funding suggests a possible explanation. It found that there are differences in the way schools with more eligible pupils are using the funding.
Secondary schools with higher proportions of pupils entitled to free school meals are using the funding to offer more types of support. Schools in the group with the highest proportion of eligible pupils offered an average of 10 types of support, compared with 9.9 for those in the next group and 8.8 in secondary schools with the lowest proportion.
Perhaps, then, it is those schools with few pupils eligible for the Pupil Premium which are most in need of guidance. The Department’s report and our data both hint that these schools may need support on how to use the funding in varied and effective ways.
So, our data suggests that our members in good or outstanding secondary schools, and in schools with lower numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals are more interested in reading about effective use of the funding. What can we learn from this? Is the picture more about confident schools looking for advice on what to do next? Or is it more about schools with fewer eligible pupils looking for ideas?
For now, the data can’t tell us, but as the Pupil Premium becomes more embedded in the everyday work of schools, we will learn more. And we are confident that school leaders will continue learning from each other, always looking for creative and effective ways to use this funding to support disadvantaged pupils.
Kate Gilliford is a researcher at The Key, a question-answering service that supports school leaders by providing answers to their questions on all aspects of school leadership and management.