Rachel Clarke is the founder of Apex Education and works with schools to help develop staff and raise standards. In her latest guest post, she considers whether the organisation of the Pupil Premium Grant is fundamentally flawed…
The introduction of the Pupil Premium Grant (PPG) in 2011 highlighted the government’s commitment to tackling disadvantage and helping pupils from poorer backgrounds to do well.
The ambitions of the then Education Secretary Michael Gove and Children’s Minister Sarah Teather, who launched the Pupil Premium, were for it to be a vehicle to overcome educational social inequality. While the motivations behind this were well intentioned, I would question if the PPG is the best way to tackle social inequality, or if it is the government’s way of not having a clear plan of action themselves, so handing it over to schools to tackle.
When the PPG was introduced as an additional £400 per child who was from a disadvantaged background (those who’d been eligible for Free School Meals in the past six years, or those who are Looked After Children or in adopted care, or those who were part of an armed services family), many schools were pleased to receive the additional funding to use as they wish. For example, it made the payment of additional provision easier and seemed to validate the hard work schools were doing to improve outcomes for all.
Sarah Teather’s comment that “…For too long social background has been a deciding factor in a child’s achievement and future prospects. In a fair society, it’s the government’s responsibility to close the gulf in achievement, where the poorest children are almost 3 times less likely to leave school with five good GCSEs than their richer classmates (DFE 2010)…”, was one surely all educators will agree with. However, as the PPG has evolved over the years, and with the addition of new policies, the initial intentions of the PPG may have been stifled.
In 2014, schools were given an additional £22.5 million to help close the gap between the most disadvantaged and those pupils from a wealthier background. This has meant funding of £1320 per child who’s eligible, which is over a four times increase since its introduction in 2011. While the additional funding has boosted phenomenally the budgets of schools in economically deprived areas, the current introduction of universal Free School Meals has not worked with the PPG but has actually worked against it.
The fact that parents of pupils eligible for FSM need to complete forms so their child is registered on school’s lists, instead of central government being able to automatically calculate and inform schools of FSM and thus Pupil Premium numbers, has had a detrimental impact on school funding. Despite universal Free School Meals, parents of pupils who are eligible for FSM still need to complete paperwork because the PPG funding stream is based on numbers eligible. However this has proved difficult for many schools (particularly those with high deprivation), who have found it extremely challenging to encourage parents to complete paperwork because their child (if of infant age), still receives a meal.
Schools have been left to think of ways to persuade parents to do this and in cases where this has not happened successfully, FSM numbers have dramatically fallen by at least half which is storing up potential complications and troubles for the future. Surely, the onus should not solely be on schools to ensure parents complete paperwork but should also be the responsibility of local government departments to transfer information already held automatically?
In 2010, Michael Gove stated that “…schools should be engines of social mobility…and addressing this disparity [in standards] is a top priority of the coalition government…”. While few would disagree with this belief, schools have for a long time had this at the heart of what they’ve done and worked hard to ensure good standards by all are being achieved. Yes, the PPG has apportioned additional funding, however handing schools money to tackle differences in attainment isn’t enough if social equality is to be truly addressed. It shouldn’t just be the duty of schools and educational settings to be “engines of social mobility”, but the responsibility of those making decisions about social policy and employment too. If a wider approach of who’s accountable is taken it will be more likely to help those from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve as well as their peers from backgrounds that aren’t disadvantaged.
The aims of the PPG are ones that very few people would criticise and additional funding for schools is obviously welcome and helpful. Against this, schools have historically narrowed gaps using resources available and now we have a situation where a large part of a school’s budget is solely reliant on parents completing forms rather than on information that is centrally held. This can’t be right and, if not addressed, could significantly undermine the outcomes of a well-intentioned plan.
Any feedback on Rachel’s concerns about the Pupil Premium Grant and, in particular, the way it is allocated based on parental form filling?
Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…
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