Pupil Premium: Create a strategy, grow a culture

Written by: Stephen Rollett | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Ahead of his address at SecEd’s National Pupil Premium and Ofsted Conference, Stephen Rollett offers five steps for ensuring your Pupil Premium spending narrows the gap

There is no single best way for schools to use Pupil Premium funding. The most effective approach is to respond to the need on the ground, within your own context, ensuring that disadvantaged children receive the right support at the right time.

If school funding was a military exercise, the Pupil Premium would be your SAS – agile, responsive and targeted at key strategic objectives.


Since its launch in 2011, the Pupil Premium has been used by schools to improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and close the gap with other pupils.

It must be remembered that “disadvantage” in this context is defined by a specific set of criteria. While the Pupil Premium should be spent on those who meet that criteria, you may have other children in your school who are in need of extra support but who are not funded by the Pupil Premium. Obviously, it is important to meet the needs of all pupils – not just those in receipt of the Pupil Premium grant.

It may be that a pupil is identified as being eligible for Pupil Premium before funding is allocated. In this case the school should put support in place as soon as need is identified and not delay until funding becomes available.

The grant should be spent on support which will improve the attainment of eligible pupils, but the strategies which are put into practice may also benefit other pupils. An example might be using the grant to employ a particular member of staff, such as a learning support assistant or education welfare officer. While their work should primarily raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, they can also help other pupils who need additional support.

There are several groups of children who qualify for the Pupil Premium: those who have received free school meals in the past six years (FSM “ever 6”), looked after children (LAC), children who were looked after by the local authority (post-LAC), and armed forces “ever 6 service children”. Full details of the latest funding levels and eligibility criteria can be found on the Department for Education website (see further information).

My five steps

There are numerous online blogs and articles which detail specific activities and examples of the ways in which schools have used Pupil Premium funding. While these may be worth reading, you need to be cautious about replicating another school’s approach without a sense of context and evidence of the impact it achieved.

It is also a good idea to look beyond the immediate priority of improving academic achievement, or at least balancing that need with longer-term considerations. For example, plenty of schools use Pupil Premium funding to buy revision guides for year 11 pupils, and find these benefit their students. However, it may also be a good idea to look at using strategies which will have a long-term impact, such as providing more careers guidance or tackling persistent absence at key stage 3.

The most likely way of achieving your desired results is to develop a strategy from the outset.

Step 1: Identify the gaps

Identify what the gaps are and why they exist. Historic data is important, but it should not be the only evidence. Use your school’s assessment and tracking information, and insights from teachers, parents and pupils to gain a complete understanding of how your disadvantaged pupils are achieving and the barriers they face. Consider factors such as whether a problem with attainment is caused by an underlying attendance issue. Getting the diagnosis right will significantly increase your chances of identifying the right solutions.

Step 2: What works best

Find out what works best. I was struck by Professor John Hattie’s assertion at the Association of School and College Leaders annual conference recently that, to some extent, most teaching approaches work – the challenge for educators, however, is to find what works best.

Evidence is invaluable. This will not only help you to identify the right strategies but also to justify the decisions you have made during conversations with Ofsted. The Education Endowment Fund’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit and its recent report, The Attainment Gap (January 2018), is a great place to start.

Improving the quality of teaching is the most important factor in raising the achievement of any group. The relevant expertise you need to support your teachers may already exist within your school, as well as in local partnerships.

Step 3: Create a strategy

Having identified gaps, barriers and some possible solutions, your thoughts will turn to implementation. A coherent strategy with clear objectives, milestones and measurable success criteria will help you to do the vital work of evaluating impact. It will also allow you to think about the capacity which exists within your organisation or team and whether this is sufficient to achieve the desired outcomes.

A trap leaders often fall into is to identify too many objectives, particularly when they don’t tackle root causes. Fewer objectives, with a focus on the things that really matter, will give you a better chance of success. Understanding and growing capacity is key. This might be about using the grant to ensure you have the right people in the right places, or that they have the necessary time to undertake the work. It is equally important, however, to build the right culture.

Step 4: Grow the culture

Management expert Peter Drucker coined the phrase “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and the point seems particularly appropriate in the context of improving the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.

This does not mean that strategy is unimportant of course. As we have already seen, it is vital. But an effective strategy cannot exist in isolation. It has to emanate from your school’s core mission. As educators we believe that a central purpose of education is to improve social justice – and closing the attainment gap is clearly key to achieving that goal. But to what extent do we explicitly talk about Pupil Premium in this context? To what extent do we relate it back to social justice?

A Pupil Premium strategy is much more likely to be successful if we actively root it in within our school’s ethics, values and vision.

Step 5: Oversight

Ensure rigorous oversight and evaluation. Outcomes for disadvantaged pupils are a common line of inquiry from Ofsted inspectors. Be certain that your governing body is aware of any gaps, understands the Pupil Premium strategy and is holding leaders to account for its impact. Many schools have a specific link-governor for the Pupil Premium.

The DfE outlines the information schools are required to publish on their website, which includes their Pupil Premium strategy (see further information).


Two final points. First, a key to using the Pupil Premium effectively is to ensure you understand the barriers faced by your disadvantaged pupils, while recognising that they are not a homogeneous group.

This is a point made by Ofsted’s West Midlands regional director Lorna Fitzjohn in an excellent presentation at SecEd’s Seventh National Pupil Premium and Ofsted Conference in March 2017 (see further information).

Second, having a culture of high expectations will tend to give all your pupils, disadvantaged or otherwise, the best opportunity for success at school and beyond.

  • Stephen Rollett is an inspections specialist with the Association of School and College Leaders.

Further information

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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