Call to use FSM history to better target Pupil Premium

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
North-South divide: Oldham in Greater Manchester is one of the government’s Opportunity Areas (Image: Adobe Stock)

An influential report on education in the North urges reform of the Pupil Premium policy to link the level of funding to the length of time a child is on free school meals. Pete Henshaw takes a look

The Pupil Premium should be reformed to introduce different rates of funding based on the length of time a student has been on free school meals (FSM).

This is according to the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), an influential group of business leaders chaired by former chancellor George Osborne.

A report from the NPP – Educating the North – has highlighted how Northern children, especially those who are disadvantaged, continue to fall behind their peers across the rest of the country in terms of attainment.

As well as suggesting a reform of the Pupil Premium, the report also calls for a £300 million increase in government funding for disadvantaged areas across the North of England – including a longer term commitment to the government’s “Opportunity Areas” initiative.

The report has been produced by a review group led by Collette Roche, chief of staff at Manchester Airports Group, and including Sir Michael Wilshaw, the former chief inspector of Ofsted, and other headteachers, educational charities and businesses.

Provisional exam results for 2017 show that the average Attainment 8 score for the Northern Powerhouse area is 45.1, compared with a national average of 46.1 – the difference is the equivalent of one tenth of a GCSE grade. The average Attainment 8 score in London is 48.6.

Furthermore, at the end of key stage 4, disadvantaged Northern pupils achieve an average Attainment 8 score of 39.9 – 13 points below their fellow pupils.

The report states: “Not only do disadvantaged pupils in the North face an attainment gap with their non-disadvantaged peers, they also achieve lower attainment levels than disadvantaged pupils elsewhere in the country – 1.3 points below the national average and a full 6.5 points below their peers in London.

“The Northern Powerhouse Partnership regards this as the most significant issue – those from disadvantaged backgrounds are falling further behind.”

A key issue for the NPP is the relationship between the length of time a child is on FSM and the size of the attainment gap compared with children who have never been on FSM.

This is important because a child is eligible for Pupil Premium funding if they have been on FSM at any point during the last six years. Schools receive a fixed £1,320 for pupils in Reception to year 6 and £935 for pupils in year 7 to 11 (pupils in the care system also attract £1,900 under the Premium).

In particular, the NPP report quotes findings from Education Datalab in 2014, when researchers found “significant differences” between both attainment and progress for Pupil Premium pupils depending on how long they had been on FSM. It identified four principle groupings:

  • Pupils on FSM for the first two years only of the six-year period.
  • Pupils on FSM for the last two years only
  • Pupils on FSM for all six years.
  • Others patterns of FSM.

Author Mike Treadaway concluded: “We have found that the proportion of time for which a pupil is FSM throughout their time in school is likely to be the best indicator of the potential impact of disadvantage upon attainment and progress.”

The Education Datalab research also identified another group of pupils who have been on FSM at some point but not in the last six years, which it found to be closer in outcomes to Pupil Premium pupils than to pupils who have never been FSM.

Drawing on these findings, the NPP report states: “A serious consideration in light of this may be to improve Pupil Premium by applying different rates based on the length of time a pupil has been eligible for FSM.

“Under such a scenario the three regions of the Northern Powerhouse would all see their funding from Pupil Premium increase at key stage 2 and key stage 4, though to a much lesser extent in Yorkshire and Humber.”

As such, the report recommends: “Reform Pupil Premium to better target funding for disadvantage by allocating more to pupils eligible for FSM throughout their schooling, addressing the most entrenched barriers to social mobility.”

Another key ingredient, the NPP says, is an investment in school leadership and management. It warns that, according to Ofsted, only 25 of the more than 6,000 Northern schools have a grading for leadership and management that is higher than its overall rating. Furthermore, one in four Northern secondary schools are judged by Ofsted as inadequate or requiring improvement.

The NPP wants to establish what it calls “locally led clusters” for school improvement, to share services more effectively and which can be supported by local government. The NPP also want to see more Opportunity Areas in the North, especially in the North East. Currently only five of the 12 existing areas are Northern – Blackpool, Bradford, Doncaster, Oldham and Scarborough.
Opportunity Areas have received more funding from government to help boost social mobility. So far initiatives have focused on supporting schools and building links with employers.

The NPP suggestion is for a longer-term government commitment to Opportunity Areas, including the creation of a Northern Powerhouse Schools Improvement Board drawing together existing funding with a dedicated 10-year fund to allow further Opportunity Areas in the North.

It also wants to see an initial £300 million increase in government funding for disadvantaged areas across the North in order to create “place-based funds integrated with other services such as health visitors and voluntary sector providers” – a key focus of this funding would be ensuring that children are school-ready by the age of five.

The report also calls on Northern employers to commit between them to mentoring or providing experience of the world of work for more than 900,000 young people aged 11 and over every year.


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