I am approaching my three-year anniversary as headteacher at my current school. I see this as a significant milestone because I feel that three years is probably a long enough period in which to have made some real progress in improving a school’s performance.
I am, therefore, looking ahead towards this year’s exam results with even more apprehension than usual. Unlike politicians who will happily blame the previous government for all that is wrong in the world (often right up until the moment they themselves become the previous government), I do not feel that I can blame my predecessor for poor results three years after he left.
It is also nearly three years since the introduction of Pupil Premium funding in April 2011. This is the additional funding paid to schools for each pupil who is eligible for free school meals (or has been in the last six years) or has been continuously looked after for more than six months by the local authority.
The aim is to help close the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. While schools are free to spend the Pupil Premium money as they wish, there are requirements to account for how the money is spent and to make this information publicly available. In our school, we have allocated funds to literacy support, mentoring and supporting children in care. We have also instigated bespoke targeted intervention, either on a one-to-one basis or in small groups, as well as funding various clubs, such as staffed homework sessions.
For me the most interesting part of the Pupil Premium is how do you assess the impact? Clearly you can employ the usual measures of attainment (such as performance, attendance, confidence and behaviour, reduction in exclusions), but does this actually tell you anything about the effect of Pupil Premium on any one individual’s attainment?
It may be the scientist in me, but the problem seems to me to be the lack of any control (ie, a similar pupil who has not benefited from the additional funding). It is likely to be difficult to demonstrate any direct effect of the additional spending through the Pupil Premium. Such an approach is too simplistic. I believe that the real value of the Pupil Premium will be reflected in a much wider cultural and performance shift within a school.
What sets the Pupil Premium apart from other funding is the requirement for a school to account for how it is spent. In this way it cannot just be swallowed up as a budget top up. As a result, schools are having to come up with innovative ideas on how best to allocate the funds.
Although the Pupil Premium money in itself may not be a massive amount, it can be combined with other funds to set up schemes which benefit many pupils (both those who attract Pupil Premium and other “disadvantaged” pupils) within the school. In this way, the Pupil Premium can be used as leverage to introduce innovative support functions and practices within a school. Although there is nothing to stop a school using the Pupil Premium in a more “literal” sense (eg, by buying a disadvantaged pupil an iPad), in my view this would sacrifice an opportunity for long-term investment.
Using the Pupil Premium in the way I outline – as leverage to introduce improvements across the board – may, to the politicians’ annoyance, be harder to quantify. However, the changes in school culture and performance are likely to prove much more significant over the longer term and benefit more pupils (both those in receipt of Pupil Premium and others).
Is three years long enough to properly assess the impact of Pupil Premium? I suspect not. Going back to looking at a headteacher’s performance, perhaps I too could have a bit more time!
Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.