Pupil Premium: A 10-step spending plan

Written by: John Dabell | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

All schools should be regularly reviewing their Pupil Premium practice to ensure their spending is evidence-based and improving outcomes. John Dabell looks at the wealth of research and guidance out there to help, including some of Sir John Dunford’s best advice

One of the most important jobs in a school is the Pupil Premium champion. Leading the management and delivery of provision for Pupil Premium is a key role and every school needs an effective Pupil Premium champion – but this is not a job for the faint-hearted.

The bottom-line is scary: the attainment of children who attract Pupil Premium must improve or questions will be asked, so Pupil Premium champions must ensure that every penny has an impact and that this money for disadvantaged pupils yields results.

If you are lucky then you will get to work with a focused Pupil Premium support team including a competent Pupil Premium governor who understands “intelligent accountability” and doesn’t lump all Pupil Premium (and Pupil Premium Plus) pupils together or become obsessive about accountability targets and box-ticking


Effective Pupil Premium spending starts with capable governance and an understanding that Pupil Premium isn’t about league tables or some sort of bolt-on, but is about children’s needs and the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom.

According to Marc Rowland, director of the National Education Trust, governors’ intelligence on Pupil Premium issues can be sketchy and this problem frequently results in ad-hoc spending. Mr Rowland – author of A Practical Guide to the Pupil Premium and Learning Without Labels – says that we need to start any thinking around Pupil Premium by focusing on what is a good strategy for raising attainment, rather than questions about what the money is used for.

The Pupil Premium champion and Pupil Premium governor have to collaborate closely to forensically interpret pupil data, analyse interventions that have worked and their “active ingredients” and examine the results of Pupil Premium spending. Regular reviews of impact are a must, including an external review of Pupil Premium spending too.

Individual need and classroom rigour should be right at the heart of discussions and decision-making.

Seeing an impact

Looking at what doesn’t make an impact is a good place to start and Ofsted’s Pupil Premium evidence has found that less successful approaches include:

  • Spending the funding indiscriminately on teaching assistants and not managing their performance well.
  • Spending the funding on one-to-one tuition and booster classes that go on forever, do not relate to class teaching, and are not audited or quality-assured.
  • Planning spending in isolation and not as part of the school action plan.
  • Assuming that pupils eligible for the Pupil Premium will have learning difficulties.
  • Comparing the performance of pupils eligible for the Pupil Premium with other eligible pupils nationally, rather than all pupils – lowering expectations.

So what does work?

Sir John Dunford knows a thing or two when it comes to Pupil Premium. He was the National Pupil Premium Champion from 2013 to 2015 and so it makes sense to sit up and listen to what he has had to say.

By working with heads and teachers, education trusts, Teaching Schools and local authorities, Sir John was able to observe where the rubber meets the tarmac and identify the features he saw working effectively and what could be learned from those schools that used the government funding best.

Speaking with more than 15,000 school leaders gave him amazing insights into what works and he found that the schools which were most effective in their use of Pupil Premium embraced a variety of strategies, well targeted at the needs of their pupils.

Sir John emphasises 12 commonly found characteristics of effective Pupil Premium practice in successful schools:

  1. Excellent collection, analysis and use of data relating to individual pupils and groups.
  2. Unerring focus on the quality of teaching.
  3. Identification of the main barriers to learning for Pupil Premium-eligible pupils.
  4. Frequent monitoring of the progress of every Pupil Premium-eligible pupil.
  5. When a pupil’s progress slows, interventions are put in place rapidly.
  6. Every effort is made to engage parents and carers in the education and progress of their child.
  7. If poor attendance is an issue, this is addressed as a priority.
  8. Evidence (especially the Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit) is used to decide on which strategies are likely to be most effective in overcoming the barriers to learning.
  9. Staff (teachers and support staff) are trained in-depth on the chosen strategies.
  10. Complete buy-in from all staff to the importance of the Pupil Premium agenda is essential, with all staff conveying positive and aspirational messages to Pupil Premium-eligible pupils. Performance management is used to reinforce the importance of Pupil Premium effectiveness.
  11. Effectiveness of teaching assistants is evaluated and, if necessary, increased through training and improved deployment.
  12. Governors are trained on Pupil Premium.

Sir John is well-placed to tell schools how they should spend the Pupil Premium. However, he resists the temptation and instead provides us with a plan in which he sets out a process for deciding what policies best suit each school’s unique context. The “Dunford Plan” involves 10 steps:

  1. Set an ambition for what you want your school to achieve with Pupil Premium funding.
  2. The process of decision-making on Pupil Premium spending starts with an analysis of the barriers to learning for Pupil Premium pupils.
  3. Decide on the desired outcomes of your Pupil Premium spending.
  4. Against each desired outcome, identify success criteria.
  5. Evaluate the effectiveness and impact of your current Pupil Premium strategies and change them if necessary.
  6. Research the evidence of what works best.
  7. Decide on the optimum range of strategies to be adopted.
  8. In-depth staff training.
  9. Monitor the progress of Pupil Premium-eligible pupils frequently.
  10. Put an audit trail on the school website for Pupil Premium spending.

You can read more of Sir John’s findings, pointers and suggestions online (see further information).

Heineken and Bananarama

Sir John has described Pupil Premium as a “Heineken policy” because it has reached the disadvantaged children that previous government policies didn’t reach.

However, while ensuring that the Pupil Premium funding reaches the groups of pupils for who it is intended so that it makes a significant impact on their education is crucial, throwing money at them doesn’t necessarily mean learning is going to happen.

Dr Lee Elliot Major, chair of the evaluation advisory group of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), gets to the heart of the issue. He says that we need to remember the Bananarama Principle: “It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it...” or said another way, “It ain’t what you spend but the way that you spend it ... and that’s what gets results!”

As such, step six of the 10 above is arguably one of the most important: it is all about the evidence and being evidence-informed. Not throwing money at something that doesn’t work sounds obvious, yet many schools still do and pour money down the drain by focusing on myths, legends, tripe and trollop.

The best schools have become more far more analytical, informed by excellent resources such as the EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, Guidance Reports, and Promising Projects (see further information), which all offer valuable ideas for evidence-based improvement strategies where impact and value for money count the most.

These resources have made “a clear and distinctive contribution to schools and have had a direct impact on their spending of the Pupil Premium” according to impact research from the University of Durham.

Sir John is clear – we must challenge schools to think about how they could possibly adapt successful Pupil Premium strategies from elsewhere into their own contexts. However, simply transplanting what works somewhere else into our own setting isn’t always the answer, as he warns: “There is plenty of evidence about what works well, but not all these successful strategies will be appropriate to the particular context in which a school is working.”

Despite the uniqueness of local situations and the myriad factors that feed into successful approaches to Pupil Premium, there is at least one piece of solid evidence that applies to every school – make sure the best teachers work with the most vulnerable, as poor teaching disproportionately disadvantages deprived learners.

As Kevan Collins of the EEF has said: “Money matters, but nothing matters more than a (good) teacher, which is why schools have to employ teachers with a good track record of working with disadvantaged pupils.” (Collins, June 2016.)

And finally

Deciding on optimal strategies and knowing what works for you is crucial. The EEF is instrumental in flying the Pupil Premium flag and their report Putting Evidence to Work is a must-read for all Pupil Premium champions. Another must-read is Marc Rowland’s 32 Pupil Premium ideas to magpie.

Mr Rowland reminds us that every child should not just survive, but thrive – and that: “The Pupil Premium might just be the key that unlocks the opportunity for everyone to attain well.”

  • John Dabell is a teacher, teacher trainer and writer. He has been teaching for 20 years and is the author of 10 books. He also trained as an Ofsted inspector. Visit www.johndabell.co.uk

References and further reading

Pupil Premium Special Edition

This article was published as part of SecEd’s Pupil Premium Special Edition. The edition, published on March 22, 2018, offers a range of specialist best practice advice for Pupil Premium work in schools, including classroom and whole-school interventions, advice for school leaders and more. The entire edition is available to download as a free pdf document on our website supplements page: www.sec-ed.co.uk/supplements


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