Schools could have their Pupil Premium docked or withdrawn unless they can show that they are spending it effectively, according to a report from Ofsted.
And heads should not be allowed to absorb it into their overall budgets, but must target it specifically at disadvantaged children to bridge gaps in pupils’ academic achievements.
A study of more than 260 schools by the inspectorate found that the £1.65 billion scheme, designed to boost standards among children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, was failing in its central aim in half of schools.
Instead, it appeared that the £600 per pupil programme was being swallowed up as schools struggled to make ends meet because of cuts in other areas.
Among its recommendations to the Department for Education (DfE), Ofsted said: “If schools do not target Pupil Premium money effectively, then government should consider ring-fencing, payment linked to outcomes, or other mechanisms to improve its use.”
A spokeswoman from Ofsted confirmed this might mean that Pupil Premium payments are reduced or withdrawn altogether in schools which are failing to show how effectively they are using it – despite the fact that schools are free to use the money as they see fit.
“This is something that the DfE may need to look at over time if the current system is found not to be working,” she added.
The study found that schools were spending the Pupil Premium on enhancing their staffing levels and expertise, in particular through the employment of teaching assistants; on one-to-one tuition for pupils who most needed it; and subsidising trips or funding an additional curriculum.
The study was published as ministers announced that the Pupil Premium would rise to £900 per pupil from 2013/14, with £625 million more being spent on the scheme and more funding being allocated for summer schools.
It recommended that Ofsted should continue to monitor the spending of the Premium as part of the inspections process, “to ensure that they are focusing it on disadvantaged pupils and using it effectively”.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said many schools were using the funding to continue and expand strategies they already had in place.
“It is very early days to be talking about the effect of the Pupil Premium as many schools only saw the money in their budgets in the middle of last year and initiatives don’t happen overnight,” he said.
“Schools saying that they have not changed what they do because of the Premium is not the same thing as saying the money is not being used to support disadvantaged pupils. They will continue to put resources and effort into these initiatives regardless of Pupil Premium money.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “For many schools, the Pupil Premium does nothing more than make up for cuts elsewhere, while for others it is too small for meaningful differences.
“As a profession, we do need to make better use of evidence about what works with regards the Pupil Premium, but it is unfortunate Ofsted’s default response is a threat to remove discretion regarding spending, which thoroughly undermines the intent of the initiative.
“Schools are already accountable for narrowing the gap and we ask Ofsted and the government to leave it to them on the methods they choose for this. They know their pupils and communities best and should be allowed to use the money accordingly.”
SecEd Guide To
The report comes as SecEd this week publishes its latest Guide To which focuses on how schools should meet the new duty to report the impact that their Pupil Premium spending is having.
The publication, free inside this edition, features best practice advice and a case study. You can also download this as a PDF from www.sec-ed.co.uk/supplements
What do schools spend the Pupil Premium on?
Small group tuition.
Out of school hours care.
Support for specific groups.
The use of teaching assistants as a means of bolstering performance among the most disadvantaged pupils was found to have little impact in a report by the Sutton Trust.
Its Pupil Premium Toolkit, published last year, listed a number of strategies and interventions that schools could employ to make effective use of the funding.
However, when it came to using the money for teaching assistants, the study found “very small or no effects on attainment” for “high cost”.
Download the research at www.suttontrust.com/research/toolkit-of-strategies-to-improve-learning/