Crucial Pupil Premium guidance – from Ofsted and the students themselves

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Learning together: Year 6 and 9 students from Manor High School impressed delegates at the 7th National Pupil Premium and Ofsted Conference (Image: Harrison Moore)

Delegates at the 7th National Pupil Premium and Ofsted Conference hear crucial inspection advice from Ofsted and receive inspiration and some key guidance from the students themselves. Pete Henshaw reports

“Conflating eligibility for the Pupil Premium with low-ability – I have had that conversation a little too often.”

The message was clear at SecEd and Headteacher Update’s 7th National Pupil Premium and Ofsted Conference – Pupil Premium does not mean low-ability.

The event, which took place in Birmingham on Friday (March 3), saw two keynote presentations, one driven by inspirational contributions from year 6 and year 9 Pupil Premium students, and a second delivered by Ofsted. Both sessions included this key message.

The Ofsted presentation was led by Lorna Fitzjohn, Ofsted’s regional director for the West Midlands, and focused on what inspectors want to see in the context of the Pupil Premium when they visit schools.

Drawing on real inspection experiences, Ms Fitzjohn highlighted the common traits in both successful and less successful schools (see below).

She told delegates: “Often there seem to be issues about making lots of assumptions that (Pupil Premium students) will not achieve. Conflating eligibility for the Pupil Premium with low-ability – I have had that conversation a little too often. We have this attitude around ability and disadvantage and it’s very difficult to shift sometimes.”

Ms Fitzjohn reminded delegates that pupils can often have a wide range of barriers to learning: “Do not treat them as a homogenous group – see them as a range of young people who have got a story to tell,” she added.

Delegates at the event had witnessed this message first-hand in the opening session of the day. Graham Moore, a former teacher and co-founder of humanutopia, an organisation that works to raise the hopes, wellbeing, aspirations and life chances of young people, presented alongside 28 year 6 and year 9 Pupil Premium students from Manor High School in Oadby, Leicester.

The session was focused on the social barriers that can negatively affect the wellbeing and life chances of many disadvantaged pupils.

The students joined delegates on their tables and spoke candidly about a range of issues – from the things they love about school and things that make their life difficult at school, and their own perceptions of the barriers affecting them.

Mr Moore urged delegates to reflect on how well they knew their own students, and how well they understood the difficulties they faced. He ended the session with the key question: “Is your school a school of hope?”

Speaking after his session, he said: “I hope that delegates left feeling invigorated to go back into school and treat every young person knowing that each and every student has something to offer the world and they as a teacher are privileged to be close enough to the young person to help them find it.

“To assume that a young person’s talent and potential is determined by their socio-economic background is almost a prehistoric perspective and as a profession we really must move on from making such assumptions. Schools and teachers must adopt a growth mindset in appreciating what each young person can achieve during their time at school.

“Likewise, to measure, judge and categorise young people based solely on literacy and numeracy indicators is equally negligent. I hope schools provide time, opportunity and expertise to sit and listen to just why young people can’t access the curriculum or choose to frequently disrupt lessons.”

Delegates at the event included middle and senior leaders from primary and secondary schools across England.

After the inspiration of the first session, Ofsted’s session then carried a clear message for schools facing inspection: “If provision and outcomes for these (Pupil Premium) groups are not strong, we must consider carefully whether overall effectiveness can be good.”
Ms Fitzjohn said that “key lines of inquiry” for inspectors normally include:

  • What barriers have leaders identified?
  • What do you spend the Pupil Premium on to improve outcomes for eligible pupils?
  • What difference has this made?
  • How do you know?
  • Where is your evidence of impact?

The key, she said, was comparing your pupils’ outcomes to the national level and not simply to neighbouring schools or the local area. As well as the attainment and progress of students, other key Pupil Premium focus areas include attendance, looked-after children, and SEND provision.

She reassured delegates that there is “no preferred style from Ofsted for the Pupil Premium report”. She added: “We do not have a particular set of questions. We are following particular trails. (Inspectors) review information in advance of inspection, including the school’s own self-evaluation, information on the website, and published data.”

Inspection insight: Ofsted's Lorna Fitzjohn with delegates at the 7th National Pupil Premium and Ofsted Conference, run by SecEd and Headteacher Update (Image: Harrison Moore)

Crucial, however, is that all staff in schools are aware of who these pupils are and the Pupil Premium work being undertaken. Ms Fitzjohn added: “It’s about everyone being aware of these things and being able to talk about those particular children. They must be high-profile in the school. Is this group being talked about at governors’ meetings, reviews of pupil progress, are these children flagged up? Make sure the teachers know the pupils who are eligible so that they can take responsibility for accelerating their progress.”

Ms Fitzjohn said that successful schools often appoint a senior leader as a champion for Pupil Premium: “Someone who champions, who is the grit, who keeps reminding people.”

She added that successful schools also ensured that this designated senior school leader linked to a governor and between them have “a clear overview of how the funding is allocated and what difference it is making”.

The role of support staff is crucial too, she added: “Make sure that support staff (particularly teaching assistants) are highly trained and know their role clearly in helping pupils to achieve.”

One particular warning came about transition: “Transitions are key for these pupils. They are critical. (During transition), schools have often been overwhelmed with information on the pastoral side but often not from the academic side. Some authorities are trialling the swapping of teachers between secondary and primary, which I think is going to work particularly well.” She added that strategic planning at points of transition can often have “high impact on outcomes and destinations”.

The final message focused on the curriculum and experiences a school offers, and the quality of teaching and learning.

Ms Fitzjohn continued: “A broad and rich curriculum is absolutely important. Broaden their interests in a range of things to give them confidence, whether it be football or music.

“It’s about stonkingly good teaching and learning; consistently good and outstanding teaching – that’s the crux of all this.”

She urged schools to prioritise this day-to-day teaching and learning “rather than that reliance on interventions to compensate for less than good teaching”. For example, she warned of the danger of one-to-one tuition or booster classes that can “go on forever” but which are often not quality-assured.

For his part, Mr Moore urged schools to “embrace parity between academic progress and vocational development”. He added: “I hope that staff return to school (after the conference) determined to ‘out’ the various components of youth culture which hold young people back.

"Furthermore, I hope they take wellbeing seriously and provide quality and regular opportunities for young people to express themselves and their fears and worries.”

Pupil Premium: Key messages from Ofsted

Successful approaches: Where schools spent the Pupil Premium funding successfully to improve achievement and narrow the gap, they share many of the following characteristics. They:

  • Never confused eligibility for the Pupil Premium with low ability
  • Understood the importance of ensuring that day-to-day teaching meets the needs of each learner rather than relying on interventions to compensate for less than good teaching
  • Tracked and monitored achievement data to check whether progress was being made and whether any interventions were working – and then made adjustments
  • Ensured that the allocation and spending of the Pupil Premium was given a high priority in terms of staffing.

Less successful approaches include:

  • Spending the funding indiscriminately on teaching assistants with little impact 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 – not 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.

Further information

The 8th National Pupil Premium and Ofsted Conference will take place in late September. If you are interested in this event, email us at For more information on the work of humanutopia, visit


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