The Pupil Premium and family support

Written by: Simon Taylor | Published:
Image: iStock

What is it that makes the difference with Pupil Premium students? Analysing his school’s spending patterns, Simon Taylor reflects on the changing ratio between direct learning practices and wider support services

Towards the end of last term, I finally had the time and head space required to sit down and look at how my school’s budget is allocated between direct standard-raising practices (teachers in classrooms), and indirect practices (wider support services).

It is a ratio I have been wanting to calculate for some time and one I have been concerned about. It turns out I needed to be.

Working in an area of significant social disadvantage (or lack of advantage), I knew I was spending thousands on the discreet practices in terms of wider support and resource, but even so I’m shocked now I’ve actually calculated it.

Were I to get it past the person in the street test, there would, I hope, be three questions asked (and answered):

  1. Why spend so much?
  2. Where are you spending it?
  3. What impact is it having?

The why and the where

Kicking off with the why. Much of it is to try and compensate for the lack of social advantage that being a disadvantaged student creates.

Much of it is spent to generate experiences that we hope will somehow dissolve what has gone before, to replace it with what we are trying to focus on now.

However, being disadvantaged is actually about living in relative poverty compared to the rest of our community – and many studies on the impact of childhood poverty and poverty generally clearly identify that a lack of experiences is the least of the issues these family units contend with.

Despite this, looking at school websites, many of them list proudly the Pupil Premium spend and impact and often very many are about this whole area of “experiences”.

I have read one that declared that paying for an Icelandic geography fieldtrip was appropriate, or another indicating that paying for a gymkhana entrance fee was reasonable.

Somehow we hope that these experiences will enable the student to make at least the same level of progress as their advantaged counterparts and, with a bit of luck, to match their attainment.

There are of course also listed the more mundane Pupil Premium spending activities such as food technology ingredients and the obvious small group tuition provision, etc.

However, then when I dig deeper into this at my own school I find that actually between a third and half of the Pupil Premium spend for each qualifying student is allocated to the work we do with the parents and family units of the child.

This ranges from staff meeting with parents to unpick the latest set of problems being encountered, to full-on parenting support classes and anger management courses. It also includes specialist one-to-one transition activities as pupils move from year 6 to year 7.

My concern here is that we may be crossing the Rubicon of what schools should do and what ought to be normal, expected parenting activity that is robust and appropriate with the child.

We are trying to make up for the shortfall and, in many cases, parenting the parents and supporting them to do better.

However, very often we find that the more we do, the more that is expected, thus creating work for ourselves in managing the expectations of parents.

But are we doing too much? Is this our role? Where are the boundaries between parenting and schooling? Are we disempowering parents in the eyes of their children?

Very often there are clear cases where we certainly do need to intervene and support the child and adults within the family and in these cases it is right to do so. In other cases though there is an expectation from parents that we will sort out whatever their issues are as and when they arise, thus passing the parenting responsibility to us.

The impact

Is our Pupil Premium spend having an impact? In all too many cases the definite answer is no.

It does, however, depend on the level of entrenchment of the disadvantage. Long-term multiple disadvantage exposes family units to a variety of ills and experiences, which mean that often the entrenchment is deep-seated.

Where intervention does work effectively we can demonstrate that levels of supportive parental engagement are high regardless of circumstance – they actually want things to improve.

So, returning to the ratio I alluded to at the beginning, I can definitely prove that Pupil Premium spending has swung disproportionately towards our wider support services around the child over the past five years as disadvantage and poverty bite harder within the community we serve. I can’t see it swinging back any time soon either.

So, it is a case of asking exactly what would happen if we didn’t use this important financial resource to fund activities as part of this peripheral support structure. What would actually happen in reality if we withdrew some or all of our input in this area? After all, it would be very tempting to pour resources back into the classroom and direct learning practices (where they are so sorely needed).

Well, the first outcome of doing that would be that attendance would plummet, disengagement would increase, and persistent absence would rise dramatically.

The impact of significant numbers of disaffected teenagers increasingly on local streets would bring down objections from our police and community services, and so on. I think we could write the script for ourselves...

  • Simon Taylor is principal and CEO of Kirkby College in Nottinghamshire. He is also CEO and lead principal of the North Ashfield Behaviour and Attendance Trust which operates a learning centre facility on behalf of the four local secondary schools. The group has a policy of zero permanent exclusion, which it has achieved for the past six years.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Claim Free Subscription