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Ofsted inspections take account of how the school uses pupil premium money.Ofsted inspections take account of how the school uses pupil premium money.

The pupil premium is boosting the education prospects of poorer children in a growing number of schools, according to a new report by Ofsted.

The Government's education watchdog has published a progress report on how well schools in England are using the extra funding they receive to raise the attainment of their more disadvantaged pupils.

It finds that, while it is too early to point to any significant narrowing of the gap nationally between more affluent and poorer children in key tests and exams at 11 and 16, school leaders are generally spending the pupil premium more effectively than at any time since the funding was introduced in 2011.

HM Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw says that this improving picture could be credited in part to Ofsted's strong emphasis on the issue, which was concentrating the minds of headteachers and governors alike. Heads now know that their schools will not receive a positive judgement unless they can demonstrate that they are focused on improving outcomes for eligible pupils. A number of previously outstanding secondary schools have recently been downgraded after inspectors judged their pupil premium money was not being spent effectively or the progress and attainment of poorer children was lagging behind other groups.

Every inspection report now includes a commentary on the attainment and progress of pupils eligible for free school meals and an evaluation of how this compares with other children. Inspectors are also increasingly recommending external reviews of a school's use of the pupil premium in under-performing institutions.

Closing the attainment gap

The report finds that school leaders, overall, are demonstrating a strong commitment to closing the attainment gap, forensically targeting interventions and putting in place robust tracking systems.

There is a strong association between a school's overall effectiveness and the impact of the pupil premium. Of 151 schools sampled, the attainment gap between free school meal children and their peers was closing in all 86 schools judged by Ofsted to be good or outstanding for overall effectiveness. In 12 of these schools, this gap had narrowed to virtually nothing.

In these good and outstanding schools, governing bodies are taking strategic responsibility for ensuring the pupil premium funding improves the teaching and support for eligible pupils.

However, the new report shows that weak leadership and governance remains an obstacle to narrowing the attainment gap in a significant minority of schools, particularly in those judged inadequate for overall effectiveness.

Inspectors found that the most common uses of the pupil premium funding are to pay for additional teaching staff, booster classes, reading support, raising aspiration programmes and "learning mentors". Many schools also use the money to provide after-school, weekend and holiday sessions. Spending is typically focused on English and maths.

The report also includes data that shows wide variations across local authority areas in terms of the achievement of poorer pupils in tests and exams at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4. For example, many London boroughs have well above average proportions of free school meal children achieving five or more good GCSEs, while eligible children are least likely to achieve this benchmark in places like Barnsley, Portsmouth, South Gloucestershire, North Lincolnshire and Northumberland. The change in these proportions between 2012 and 2013 also varies considerably – from a ten per cent fall in Thurrock to a 13 per cent increase in Windsor and Maidenhead.

Sir Michael says that "The success of London illustrates vividly that poverty should not be an automatic predictor of failure and so the Government needs to tackle those parts of the country like Barnsley where poorer children are still getting a raw deal.

The report, The Pupil Premium: an update, can be found at:
www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/pupil-premium-update

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