Case study: How we closed our Pupil Premium gap

Written by: Phil Denton | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

We’re all focused on narrowing the gap. School leader Phil Denton explains some of the strategies and approaches that have proved successful at his school

Last summer’s results at St Edmund Arrowsmith High School reflected a significant improved performance for disadvantaged students.
The Progress 8 score for this group was a strong +0.09. This is well above the national average which Fischer Family Trust report at around –0.36.

There were some central strategies which supported this improved performance. These strategies built upon, what I will define as “the fundamentals”.

In addition to the fundamentals, this article will detail some of our most successful initiatives which we have developed following inspiration from creative colleagues at St Edmund Arrowsmith and successful practices seen at other high-performing schools.

The fundamentals

These are the basics which may not require a financial outlay from the Pupil Premium pot but they do require a focus from staff at all levels within a school.

The first step is to ensure all staff are aware who the disadvantaged students are. This is established through the clear identification of disadvantaged students on our management information system. This is then used by teachers to create data-rich/informed seating plans. These seating plans must then be referred to in all lesson observations and learning walks.

In addition, disadvantaged students must also be a focus in all data reviews, work scrutiny exercises and pupil voice collections. While it is imperative to have a member of the senior leadership team who is responsible for Pupil Premium funding, they must not become isolated from those responsible for leading teaching and learning and other areas related to improving pupil outcomes.

Therefore, it is crucial that all staff know who the disadvantaged students are, they understand the whole -school strategy for improving their outcomes and there is a sense of collective responsibility when raising the attainment of this vulnerable group.

The focus

We have created a role named “Learning Champion” to give an increased focus on each disadvantaged student in each year group. The Learning Champions tend to be ambitious, aspiring middle leaders who are looking for additional roles to develop and refine their leadership potential.

We have three Learning Champions and they have a focus on either years 7 and 8, years 9 and 10, or year 11. In all three cases, they coordinate the support for every disadvantaged student. For some students this is assigning a key worker, such as an attendance officer, who can support the student in the primary area of need as well as being a supportive adult in the school. On many occasions, this adult is the Learning Champion.

In some cases, they offer reward cards for attending revision sessions, increasing attendance or improving their effort levels. In other cases, they may just organise additional opportunities so that the disadvantaged student can enjoy a holistic educational experience.

In all cases, the Learning Champion will learning walk the disadvantaged students’ lessons, collect pupil voice and regularly meet with them individually to ensure that school is a place which supports their development socially, emotionally and academically. There has been a tangible increase in attainment, as shown by the graph below, since the inception of Learning Champions.

Narrowing the gap: Increased attainment following the creation of the Learning Champion role in 2014

A good start

We know the statistics and the reality that disadvantaged students often bring when they transition from primary to secondary school. The St Edmund Arrowsmith Summer School has been particularly successful in supporting a smooth transition. Summer school in itself is not a novel or unique concept, but the manner in which it is delivered has resulted in a very positive first experience for the student.

It is also a very helpful insight for the staff involved as they can get to know our new students in very small groups. Our set up is such that staff from the school, usually year 7 form tutors, lead activities loosely based around numeracy and literacy catch-up. The activities have a focus, whether it be going on holiday, adventure or a night at the movies.

While staff are setting up tents, creating dramatic productions or cooking up an Italian dish, they are talking and assessing each student to judge their state of mind and academic ability. While these fun but useful activities take place our student welfare officer, who is employed through Pupil Premium funding, spends around 20 minutes which each child. She discusses their feelings about starting school and ensures any fears are allayed and they are reassured.

We have an intake of around 250 with around 15 per cent disadvantaged, and so along with other vulnerable groups we have around 50 students attending the three-day summer school. The experience culminates with a parental showcase during which we take the time to catch-up with the new parents and ensure they are happy with their child’s transition arrangements and to immediately open up lines of communication between school and home. The impact of this is difficult to quantify but our student voice, staff feedback and smooth transition process support the notion that this is a pivotal programme in getting our disadvantaged students off to a good start.

Bespoke support for each individual

All too often, schools look for an intervention which they believe will be the panacea to their Pupil Premium gap. The harsh truth is that this does not exist.

Schools that are successful find systematic methods of planning, implementation, monitoring and review which meet the needs of the individual students. In order to achieve this, we have half-termly case conferences which bring together the key people responsible for Pupil Premium students that face the most challenging barriers. Some examples of the actions which are agreed and actioned are as follows:

Employment of literacy and numeracy programmes of support: This has included programmes such as IDL, Symphony Maths, Lexia, Talking Partners and others. The case conference will highlight students that struggle to access the content of core subjects. Subject specialists raise the issue and discuss with members of the SEN team which programme of support would be most effective. For example, if the issue is social discourse then Talking Partners is the programme suggested. However, if it is basic maths skills, Symphony Maths can re-engage the students and encourage more communication and communication with parents.

Mentoring: This can be extremely effective for students who need a supportive point of contact in school. Our student welfare officer, who will be present at the meeting, will suggest a key worker. That could be any member of staff with whom a student has a positive relationship. Monitoring cards and rewards can be offered by the member of staff along with set times at which the disadvantaged student can speak to their mentor about social or academic issues. This has re-engaged many students who look to impress their mentors and enjoy the rewards. Again, effective rewards are a judgement call – they have ranged from vouchers for Primark to a cup of tea and toast at break-time.

Study skills: The final approach we have used is an external study skills mentor. This mentor is from a local college. They review students’ revision and study approaches. They set the student targets to follow. The kudos they hold in terms of expertise from a respected college is well received by parents and students alike. This approach is one which is widely employed by colleges and one which we have seen to have a strong impact in our school.


The key to our success has been a combination of support which is strategically organised and bespoke to the individual. The simple motto we adhere to is “never give up on any child”.

We utilise every possible strategy but work hard to ensure that we consider each intervention carefully and give it time to take effect.
If any of these ideas seem like they would work for you and if you would like to know more, please do not hesitate to contact me and we can work together. We are always open to ideas from other schools as well.


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