Making Pupil Premium work in the aftermath of @profbeckyallen ‘s #rED18 speech

At #rED18 I was hurled into a tornado of uncertainty by the compelling @profbeckyallen during a very well reasoned session on why the Pupil Premium is not working. I should declare an interest here, leading provision for students eligible for Pupil Premium is my role across a Multi-Academy Trust. I struggled to think of anything other than turkeys welcoming Christmas.

Having listened to @profbeckyallen and read her blog many, many times, I spent a few days struggling to reconcile my role, largely because I agree with the points made;

  • Pupil premium is not the best indicator of disadvantage
  • The strategy and review process is cumbersome and bureaucratic
  • The process has led to some strategies which are counter-productive

This reflection process has focused my thoughts on what we do more than ever.

Over the past four weeks I have been visiting a variety of schools to better understand the provision for Pupil Premium students in each setting. It has been wonderful to see focused professionals in so many schools working together to provide the most disadvantaged members of our communities with the best possible start in life. I would encourage schools to think carefully about whether or not they have been able to identify who the most disadvantaged students actually are, focusing on information beyond the Pupil Premium indicator.

Identification of Barriers


I have seen schools adopting a questionnaire / interview approach to working with students to identify barriers. It is important to consider data collection and analysis when putting this sort of research tool together. A simpler set of questions that enables responses to be easily recorded will provide you with a more useful set of data. Once barriers have been identified through student voice, it is important that this information is included in any strategy document. Schools should show that identification of barriers involves students, parents and staff where possible. This is a useful process because it allows us to understand what might be getting in the way for some students. Schools report finding out things they would never have come across otherwise. Even if PP is not a good proxy for disadvantage, schools will have identified and addressed issues and improved the experience for some students.

Targeting the Right Students


Schools are often targeting ‘underperforming’ students on the basis of current academic performance compared to KS1-KS2 / KS2-KS4 target setting. This does allow identification of useful target groups, however it is important to be mindful that some students who appear to be performing in-line with or above expectations may be facing challenges that lead to underperformance in final exams. There is significant evidence to suggest that long-term FSM correlates with underperformance and so it would be worth focusing support on this group regardless of whether or not they are ‘on-track’. More detail on this can be found in Mike Treadaway’s Education Datalab Blog here:

Given the likelihood of students in this cohort underperforming, it seems sensible that we should cast a watchful eye over their experience of school and try to mitigate any barriers to learning.

Explicit Status and Student Allowance


From discussion with a number of school leaders in different contexts it seems likely that explicit Pupil Premium status can have a positive effect on engaging the identified cohort with intervention strategies. We may consider this approach to be controversial, but in some communities, this approach provides a clear motivation for families to work together with schools. This has been achieved by making a financial allowance available to all PP students ranging from £60 to £150. From this, students are given a menu of resources / activities they can spend their allowance on. There is evidence of improvement in attendance at parents’ evenings, and anecdotally there appears to be a residual benefit in understanding and direct support from subject teachers. This approach also provides a means of keeping track of support received by individual students. This approach has been universally well received in the schools visited, largely because of the care and sensitivity with which it is implemented. It would be useful to explore how this approach might be used to increase applications for FSM before year 3 at Primary – are there particular resources that could be made available to year 1/2 parents that may encourage them to register for FSM?

Mentoring Support


There is effective mentoring support for Pupil Premium students, which is most successful when it focuses on organisation and directing access to support and intervention. In some schools this is taken on by members of the Leadership Team, and in others there are dedicated mentors who are able to establish a relationship with PP students and their families. At Primary level there is an existing family liaison model, it would be worth Secondary colleagues seeing what they can learn from this model.



Students have accessed MyTutor and also some tutoring as part of the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP). There is some really promising evidence on the efficacy of MyTutor, particularly in Maths. It would be worthwhile identifying PP students who would benefit from accessing this support.

Schools have trialled homework club arrangements with varying degrees of success. Where these are well structured and well staffed they seem to be very popular with PP students and I would advocate offering this provision in all of our schools.

Revision Support

Learning Scientists

Most schools are providing PP students with revision guides, however a higher proportion of students were accessing these resources in schools where the financial allocation model is established. Without this model in place, it seems that some students slip through the net in at least some subjects and therefore don’t have access to all of the resources they require. Effective practice in this area includes explicit teaching of revision and study skills for PP students. Guidance on revision and study skills, including some really useful printable resources can be found here:

It would be useful to see how Primary schools are making use of KS2 / KS1 revision resources with their PP cohorts.

Parental Engagement

Parents Eve

Parental engagement is most effective when there are dedicated staff who are able to build a relationship and make regular contact with parents, giving them guidance on upcoming events and supporting things like booking on to parents’ evenings.

It is important to track parental attendance in order to be confident that we are providing the right level of support. One school allows PP parents access to the parents’ evening booking system 3 days ahead of other parents. Implemented alongside home contact from dedicated staff, this has the potential to dramatically increase parental engagement.

Parental Agency

Dr Kathy Weston – @parentengage (Educational Consultant and author of “Engaging Parents” coming out in December), speaking at ResearchED 2018, stated that parental engagement is most effective when we provide parents with ‘agency’. We have to give parents effective actions that they can do to help their child succeed. Rather than parents just hearing about what their child is not doing, we should think carefully about how we can support parents and facilitate their role. A good example of this was providing parents with log-in details for all electronic study resources, so that they can easily direct their child to these. In schools with the most effective provision, dedicated staff were available at parents’ evenings to provide this sort of practical guidance.

We are going to explore accredited parenting facilitator courses in some schools, it is worth considering whether or not this is appropriate in your context. Information can be found here:

Extra-curricular Provision

Most schools have an extensive extra-curricular provision. All schools with students using buses expressed issues with PP students accessing after school provision. Consideration should be given to using some funding to support with transport.

It is essential that we track attendance at extra-curricular activities so that we know whether or not PP students are participating and we can either intervene and support students in accessing the activities, or review the provision available. In some cases information available is in the form of a provision map. Detailed recording of attendance is very useful when analysing the access.

Careers and Aspirations

Careers advisers are prioritising PP learners for early interviews. It is important that careers information, education advice and guidance in all year groups takes account of the PP status of students, but perhaps more importantly we should be thinking about those students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are not PP. This provision is a key vehicle for shaping ambition and aspiration and our students need to be engaged and inspired through their careers related learning. I would be interested to know more about how this is achieved at KS2 and KS3.

Performance Measures

In the majority of cases, schools are monitoring and tracking achievement data (attainment and progress) alongside attendance, behaviour and rewards, and exclusions for PP students. This is most effective when the information is considered together for each student, this is more useful than having a behaviour team looking at PP data in isolation from academic data.

Pupil Premium Networks

I would strongly advise making use of local networks with a PP focus. Sharing with others and making use of their experiences of what works helps us all to move closer to finding appropriate support and intervention.

Further Reading

The Sutton Trust have published a report looking at the different ways in which parents from different socio-economic backgrounds engage with schools, giving us an insight into factors that may contribute to the achievement gap. This is a useful document to reflect on when considering potential barriers for the parents in our school communities.

Strategy / Action Plan

Many schools are using the Teaching Schools Council document to shape their review and strategy. I would advise breaking this into two documents: 1. Review of strategies 2017-2018, 2. Strategy action plan 2018-2019. This is to ensure that anyone checking the website can see that there is a review document and a strategy document. This has been missed when just the one document has been posted.

Pupil Premium Reviews

It is definitely worth sourcing an external review of Pupil Premium provision. A fresh pair of eyes will help challenge your thinking and support further improvement. In my experience, it also helps to strip back to a more focused and dynamic approach.

In Conclusion

I think @profbeckyallen is spot on in her critique of the Pupil Premium as a system strategy. We need a better approach longer term, that frees up schools to make decisions in the interest of their own school communities. We need to be able to direct funding to those who need it most.

At the moment though, schools have a statutory responsibility to ensure this funding is spent in accordance with conditions of the grant, and so we cannot abandon existing approaches. We can think more carefully about who we are supporting, there are other ways of identifying disadvantage.

Meta-analyses showing the effectiveness of strategies include some schools where approaches have been implemented more effectively than others. We can be reassured that whilst large scale studies using aggregated data are probably not going to provide definitive evidence of what works, we can collaborate with other schools in similar settings and find out what they have tried that works. We also have strategies that we have tested in our own schools, and whilst it is more or less impossible to isolate variables in a school setting, we have a good idea of what is working for our students based on feedback from students, and hopefully some residual improvement in their learning.

We should take heed of @profbeckyallen ‘s message and reflect on how we might improve our approach within the confines of existing statutory requirements. Perhaps current discussion around the topic will prompt a wider consultation on this funding stream, it is imperative that any such discussion takes account of the views and experiences of those of us who have been implementing the strategy in school settings.

The thought processes outlined are not intended to be exhaustive. A summary of key ideas can be found here: PP Strategy Key Processes

Also worth a look:

Amjad Ali @ASTsupportAAli has posted a useful collection of links to key research:

“To help any Pupil Premium/Inclusion leads out there, I have attempted to collate all relevant links to research/evidence/spotlights to effective practice.”


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