Secrets to success: How to spend the Pupil Premium


Ofsted’s report into how schools are spending the Pupil Premium offers a range of advice and best practice. Pete Henshaw looks at seven key strategies that have proven successful.

The Pupil Premium is now a significant part of many schools’ budgets, with some secondaries in Ofsted’s study receiving more than £296,500 this year. So unsurprisingly, the pressure is on heads to be able to show the impact that this money is having.

The funding was first introduced in April 2011 when it was worth £488 for every pupil on free school meals (FSM) or those who have been in care for at least six months. This year, it is worth £900 per pupil, with all children who have been eligible for FSM at any point in the last six years now also being eligible.

Ofsted is positive about how well schools are spending the money, but said “a significant minority are still struggling to show how the money is making any meaningful impact in terms of narrowing the gap between pupils from low income and more affluent families”.

Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said: “Many of these good schools are concentrating on the core areas of literacy and numeracy to break down the main barriers to accessing the full curriculum. They are also focusing on the key stages of a child’s development in their school career.

“However, some schools still lack good enough systems for tracking the spending of the additional funding or for evaluating the effectiveness of measures they have put in place in terms of improving outcomes.”

The report is based on visits to 43 primary and 25 secondary schools during the autumn. It lists a range of general characteristics of both successful and unsuccessful Premium spending (see list at the end of this article). It also offers details on specific strategies that have worked.

Strategy 1: Targeting funding well

Ofsted praises schools which use tracking data intelligently to analyse their pupils’ underachievement in the school as a whole, and which focus on a long-term strategy ahead of “quick wins”.

One secondary school in the study set aside a pot of its Pupil Premium and allowed teachers to bid for funding for specific resources or interventions. The staff had access to assessment and tracking systems which helped to identify underachievement in each subject, and inspectors found that this approach worked because the teachers “knew the pupils best” and took responsibility for meeting their needs. Parents and carers were also encouraged to put forward suggestions, with each request being considered carefully by the Premium co-ordinator and discussed in detail with the guardian.

Strategy 2: Effective intervention/tuition

Many schools used one-to-one tuition or intervention classes and these were successful when they were taught by well-qualified and specialist teachers, time-limited and linked to day-to-day teaching. It was also important that the timetabling of these interventions didn’t have a negative impact on other areas of pupils’ learning.

One secondary school used specialist teachers to teach small groups of pupils who were underachieving in a specific aspect of English or maths, such as the use of apostrophes. The pupils attended regular intensive sessions for a short period with a specialist teacher before quickly returning to normal lessons.

Strategy 3: Ensuring TAs raise standards

Ofsted is clear that teaching assistants, to be effective, must clearly understand their role, be well training, and also targeted at those classes most in need. Changing their hours to help them plan approaches with teachers is also a good idea, inspectors say.

One secondary school was concerned about the progress of low-attaining groups in year 7 who were not settling in well. Two primary-style classes were created where pupils spent more time with the same teachers and focused on literacy and numeracy. Many of these were Premium pupils, but not all, and well-trained higher level teaching assistants were used to develop their literacy and numeracy skills.

Strategy 4: Minimising barriers

Ofsted highlights the importance of a focus on pupils’ home circumstances and possible barriers such as poor behaviour, exclusions or low attendance. Social and emotional skills could also be an area where support is needed, while schools might need to engage more deeply with parents as well.

For one school in the study, poor attendance was causing problems of underachievement and so an experienced and well-qualified parental support advisor was appointed. The staff member worked with a “case load” of 20 pupils at a time to solve issues that were preventing attendance. 

A “welcome to school” room was also set up and staffed by teaching assistants for “halfway house” pupils who were finding it difficult to return full-time.

Strategy 5: Meeting specific pupil’s needs

The Premium could effectively be used to meet specific pupil’s needs, inspectors say. Schools should recognise when particular circumstances left pupils vulnerable to underachievement or where “gaps in experiences” due to poverty might have an impact.

A pupil who became temporarily looked-after in year 11 following a family trauma was supported in one school as her work began to suffer. It bought in counselling and other emotional support, as well as an individualised programme of additional teaching, including daily maths tuition, extra English lessons and support in PE (where she was predicted an A).

Strategy 6: Involve your governors

Ofsted stresses the importance of involving governors in decision-making and praised governors who ask “challenging questions about how effective each action funded by the Premium was being”.

A case study shows governors visiting other schools to see Pupil Premium best practice in action, specific governing body committees being set-up to monitor and evaluate Premium spending, and governors having a good knowledge of how much of the money had been spent by the school and on what.

Strategy 7: Monitoring and evaluation

Proper monitoring of Pupil Premium spending involved a wide range of data being looked at as a whole, Ofsted says. This includes achievement data, pupils’ work, observations, case studies and the views of pupils and staff. Effective monitoring meant that interventions and approaches could be changed or adapted quickly if they were not working. The effective evaluation of pastoral interventions for issues such as behaviour or attendance is also seen as vital.

Strategy 8: Summer schools with purpose

Secondary schools can bid for additional funding to run summer schools for students moving from year 6 into year 7, and while inspectors noted that many projects were at an early stage of development, they were concerned that schools were not always clear about the intended outcomes. The best examples, they said, were summer schools that had clear aims, worked closely with feeder primaries, and included opportunities for pupils to develop basic skills as well as social skills.

General characteristics of a well-spent Pupil Premium

  • Proper analysis of where pupils are underachieving and why.

  • Good use of research evidence, including the Sutton Trust’s Toolkit, when choosing activities.

  • Focus on high quality teaching, rather than relying on interventions to compensate. The best teachers lead English/maths intervention groups.

  • Frequent use of achievement data to check effectiveness of interventions. School adjust techniques constantly, rather than waiting until after the intervention.

  • Systematic focus on clear pupil feedback and advice for improving their work.

  • Designated senior leader has clear overview of the funding allocation.

  • All teachers are aware of their Premium children so they can take responsibility for progress.

  • Strategies are available for improving attendance, behaviour or family links if these are an issue.

  • Performance management of staff includes discussions about Premium children.

General characteristics of a poorly-spent Pupil Premium

  • A lack of clarity about intended impact.

  • Indiscriminate spending on teaching assistants.

  • No monitoring of quality/impact of interventions.

  • An unclear audit trail.

  • Focus solely on pupils attaining the Level 4 benchmarks (and not any higher).

  • Pupil Premium is spent in isolation and is not part of school development plan.

  • School compares performance to local, not national, data.

  • Pastoral work is not focused on the desired outcomes for pupils.

  • Schools cannot present evidence to show whether work had been effective.

  • Governors are not involved in taking decisions.


Further information
The Pupil Premium: How schools are spending the funding can be downloaded online alongside a set of documents to help schools analyse gaps in achievement and plan their actions effectively. Visit


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