Characteristics of the most effective pupil premium strategies revealed in research report

04/07/2018

Pupil premium strategies that account for how every pound of the pupil premium budget is spent, have clear monitoring and success criterion for each initiative and clarify which group of pupils will receive funding are those that most strongly correlate with good outcomes for pupils, according to a research report by the National Governance Association (NGA).

This is amongst findings of a report on a survey of 875 governors and trustees and an analysis of 36 pupil premium strategies undertaken to explore the governing board’s role in spending, monitoring and evaluating the pupil premium as part of NGA’s Spotlight on Disadvantage campaign. The campaign seeks to help governing boards in raising outcomes for children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and ensure that the impact of governors and trustees is recognised in assessing the impact of the pupil premium.

The data shows that the governing board’s role is a substantive one and revealed some important findings around how schools can maximise the impact of pupil premium funding through their pupil premium strategy. A pupil premium strategy must legally be published by every school, showing how much pupil premium funding the school receives, the main barriers to achievement faced by eligible pupils and what the school will do to overcome them and how the pupil premium impact will be measured, as set out in the Governance Handbook.

Analysis of pupil premium strategies also uncovered a disconnect between the pastoral barriers to educational achievement facing children eligible for the pupil premium and the teaching and learning initiatives which schools are using the pupil premium to fund. Amongst the most commonly mentioned barriers were family life and low attendance, but amongst the most commonly identified initiatives were literacy and numeracy support, showing that the strategies are not always targeting support where it is most needed. The report recommends that governing boards take a more holistic approach to their pupil premium spending to better address ‘specific barriers to learning that hold back pupil premium students.’

Spending the pupil premium in an effective way is essential to ‘closing the gap’ for disadvantaged pupils. In a research report in 2017, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) found that children eligible for the pupil premium were, on average, 4.3 months behind their peers when they first started school and, by the time the cohort sat their GCSEs, the gap between pupil premium pupils and their peers had risen to 19.3 months.

The survey found that governing boards view internal data and the opinions of senior members of staff more favourably than external data, academic research and the EEF toolkit when considering how to spend the pupil premium. To improve effectiveness of the spend, the NGA is encouraging governing boards to consult a range of external sources, as well as their own expertise, using the evidence to decide what is most likely to work and adapting this to the school’s context.

The report also warns that the current funding climate, which remains the biggest concern of school governors and trustees, may be affecting the positive effects of pupil premium funding. The survey found that, though very few respondents said their school using the pupil premium to plug the funding gap, only 71.6% of respondents’ schools ring-fence their pupil premium. While there is no legal requirement for schools to ring-fence the pupil premium, the research indicated that schools often use the pupil premium to subsidise spending commitments that would usually be funded by the school’s core budget, including improving the classroom environment, improving feedback and hiring additional teachers.

Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association, said: “This report demonstrates how crucial the pupil premium is to the education of disadvantaged pupils, yet that it is hard for governing boards to consistently spend in a targeted manner. NGA suggests that the pupil premium should form part of the core school budget which would provide more assurance about the future of the additional funding, while allowing schools more flexibility in using it. Schools should still be required to report on the progress and attainment of disadvantaged pupils. The gap is closing, but there is still much to do which is why the pupil premium remains hugely important. Governors and trustees are extremely committed, but do face challenges in effectively developing pupil premium strategies and therefore I hope these findings can accelerate their progress and that of their pupils.”

Tom Fellows, senior research lead at the National Governance Association and co-author of the report, said: “This research has revealed that governing boards’ involvement in pupil premium spending is a crucial ingredient in effective pupil premium spending. It is clear though that more needs to be done to support governing boards in getting the strategic elements of pupil premium spending right. By applying these practical recommendations to their own context, can take to improve their practice and raise outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.”

Sir John Dunford, former national pupil premium champion for the Department for Education, said: “Governing boards have a major responsibility in holding school leaders to account for the spending of pupil premium and, in particular, for its impact. All pupil premium spending should be ring-fenced, evidence-based and making a measurable impact, and it is the duty of the governing board to both agree the pupil premium strategy, monitor its progress and report on its impact. This research will be very helpful to boards in this important part of their role.”

Mike Treadaway, Associate Research Fellow at the Fischer Family Trust (FFT) Education Datalab, said: “The NGA report should be read by all with an interest in improving the attainment of disadvantaged pupils. The report includes a wide-ranging summary of existing research and couples this with insightful analysis of the role of governors and decisions made by school leaders. The recommendations, particularly those for more widespread use of evidence to inform decisions and the need to look at a wider range of strategies, deserve careful consideration.”

Marc Rowland, author of A practical guide to the pupil premium, said: “This report is much needed. It provides an essential guide for governors and Trustees. It supports a highly strategic approach to better use and impact of the pupil premium.”

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