How schools are using funding from the Pupil Premium
Ofsted recently stated that “schools could do better with Pupil Premium funding”. However, having assessed the allocation of Pupil Premium funding in 70 schools in England, only a small minority were identified as spending extra funding for poor pupils ineffectively, with some struggling to show how they use Pupil Premium payments. With the increase in funding in 2013/14 to £900 per pupil, and a requirement for Ofsted to increase its focus on inspecting Pupil Premium spending, are schools changing the way they allocate their funds?
Pupil Premium funding comes with strict criteria: it is given to schools “so that they can support their disadvantaged pupils and close the attainment gap between them and their peers”. The question is, are children from disadvantaged families necessarily the ones with additional educational needs? Statistically, there is probably a link but it is not always the case. Should schools therefore be using the money for disadvantaged children or those with SEN?
Recent research from 263 primary and 169 secondary schools carried out for the education sector’s trade association, BESA, provides an insight into how the money is being used and how the renewed Ofsted interest will affect the application of funding.
Roughly 60 per cent of SENCOs saw the Pupil Premium as extra funding, while only 44 per cent of headteachers and deputy heads saw it in this way. About a third of schools interviewed stated that they ring fence all their Pupil Premium funding for specific schemes relating to disadvantaged pupils; the majority stated that some is reserved for this purpose. Roughly a fifth of schools said that none of these funds are ring-fenced. This is not to suggest that children with specific learning needs are not supported in these schools, but simply that Pupil Premium funding is not ring-fenced for this purpose.
Responding to Ofsted
So where does this leave these schools in terms of their Ofsted inspection? Are the 20 per cent of schools who do not ring-fence funding concerned about receiving poor inspection reports? Apparently, they are not.
The majority of schools say there will be no difference in the way they monitor and allocate funding in 2013/14. Just 20 per cent of primary headteachers and deputy heads, and around 30 per cent of SENCOs, are planning on making changes to Pupil Premium allocations.
However, this is clearly not about schools ignoring the importance of Ofsted inspections. Instead, it suggests that schools, who are free to spend the money as they see fit, are comfortable that the use of their Pupil Premium allocation is helping the children who will benefit from additional support.
The research also showed that the increase in funding in 2013/14 will have a significant impact on what schools spend their allocations on. More than a third (39 per cent) of primary schools and more than half (57 per cent) of secondary schools expect to change their current spending patterns, with the additional funding contributing towards small group support and one-on-one teaching provision. More than 90 per cent of schools said they would buy reading books and other printed material, and 68 per cent would allocate money for digital content and software.
According to this research, schools are willing to invest in additional resources to support pupils’ specific needs. Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, commented: “Following my criticism of schools last year, it is clear more schools are now taking their responsibilities seriously when it comes to using the Pupil Premium money and our inspectors have found evidence of some very good practice in their recent visits.”
It would seem that what schools are doing is supporting those pupils who they believe will gain the most from this increased funding, and that they are happy with their decision. It is heartening to know that schools feel they are using the Pupil Premium effectively and are therefore confident about their Ofsted inspection.
Caroline Wright is the Director of the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA):