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What should schools spend their pupil premium on and why?


To coincide with the release of the new EEF guide to becoming an evidence-informed school governor and trustee, Tom Fellows, NGA’s research manager, shares how NGA’s thinking has evolved since the Spotlight on Disadvantage research last year.

The pupil premium is funding given to all state schools in England to raise outcomes for disadvantaged pupils. When spending the pupil premium, those governing play a key role in debating “what works” in conjunction with school staff and signing-off on the spending strategy. Yet, while those governing have a legal obligation to use the money to support eligible pupils, schools have a lot of freedom to spend the money how they and their school leaders’ see fit, as long as it makes an impact on the outcomes of disadvantaged pupils.

As such, the question of “what type of provision should schools fund through the pupil premium?” is a question NGA has been grappling with over the past few months. It is also a question NGA does not pretend to have all of the answers to. However, we do have a few thoughts to throw into the debate and recently hosted a roundtable with the Fair Education Alliance (FEA), the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) where we talked through some of these ideas. A full write-up of the roundtable proceedings will be available in the May/June edition of Governing Matters.

The argument against spending the pupil premium solely on teaching and learning 

For many, it has become a taken-for-granted view that the pupil premium should be spent on improving the teaching and learning provision that disadvantaged pupils receive. As discussed in our Spotlight on Disadvantage research, there is some evidence to back up this viewpoint. Nevertheless, two counter points suggest that this is not necessarily a forgone conclusion.

Firstly, quality teaching and learning is important for all pupils – regardless of their pupil premium eligibility. No governor, trustee, senior leader, teacher or parent would want a struggling pupil to get a “worse deal” in terms of the educational support they receive simply because they were not eligible for the pupil premium. Instead, any governing board or senior leader would want to offer struggling pupils things like feedback, one-to-one tuition and group learning that are often seen as “pupil premium interventions”.

On the one hand, therefore, while good quality teaching and learning does have an impact on the outcomes of pupil premium pupils, as it does for all pupils, on the flip side all pupils should be entitled to quality teaching and learning regardless of their status.

There is thus a compelling argument that teaching and learning provision, and everything that is associated with teaching and learning (such as educational interventions and teaching assistants), should be funded from the schools core budget. Arguably, any use of the pupil premium to supplement teaching and learning simply masks the major cracks in school funding – cracks which NGA and our members are raising awareness of through our influential 

Secondly, while pupil premium pupils do benefit from improved teaching and learning, our research also indicates that, even in those schools with the best outcomes for all pupils, on average, pupil premium pupils still lag behind their peers. Put simply, while there are exceptions to the rule, it does not matter how good teaching and learning in a school may be; on average there will still be an in-school progress “gap” between what disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils achieve.  

This therefore suggests that there are underlying factors beyond teaching and learning which are impeding pupil premium pupil’s outcomes. NGA’s research suggests that these factors are often social, emotional and economic in nature. Nevertheless, despite this, NGA also found that initiatives schools fund through the pupil premium generally focus heavily on teaching and learning. In this sense, there appears to be a “disconnect” between the barriers to learning identified by schools and the initiatives funded through the pupil premium.

This is why, in the Spotlight on Disadvantage report, NGA suggest that schools need to think more carefully about “tackling the root causes of many of the challenges that they diagnose”; taking a more considered approach to pupil premium provision that addresses pastoral as well as educational barriers to learning.

So what should the pupil premium be used for?

Based on the above, NGA argue that more core funding is needed to allow schools to offer pupils, including disadvantaged pupils, the teaching and learning provision they need to achieve – including the necessary support when they are falling behind.  This would allow schools to free-up pupil premium funding to address the social, emotional and economic barriers which exist both inside and outside of the classroom and stop disadvantaged pupils’ accessing teaching and learning in the same way as their peers.

For the time being, however, while funding is still tight, and if school leaders think that there is a need to subsidise classroom provision, those governing and senior leaders need to take a balanced approach to spending the pupil premium on teaching and learning initiatives as well as pastoral support. This is why, in NGA’s Spotlight on Disadvantage report, it is suggested that “schools need to adopt a more holistic outlook when deciding on pupil premium spending. This means that, in the pupil premium spending strategy, teaching and learning initiatives should be accompanied by more pastoral initiatives which are often better at addressing the specific barriers to educational achievement which hold back pupil premium pupils”.

Learning link

NGA has updated its learning link module to take into account of NGA’s new research on the pupil premium. This goes into greater detail about the governing board’s role in spending, monitoring and evaluating the pupil premium.

Find out more about Learning Link.