Introduced with the best of intentions, but with flawing understanding of education in England, in 2013/14 a Pupil Premium of £1,300 in Primary schools and £935 is given to schools for every pupil who has received Free School Meals in the last six years. Looked-after children and some others attract a premium of £1,900.
Whilst these sums are more than they were in the first few years of the pupil premium’s existence – when they were just £430 per child - this is significantly less than the money schools were receiving to support disadvantaged children prior to the pupil premium being introduced. The Pupil Premium represents less than 2% of the average school budget, in a period when 45% of schools have seen their budgets cut by more than 5%.
Despite there being no research evidence showing how schools can improve disadvantaged pupils’ attainment relative to national average attainment - and little which guarantees absolute improvement in attainment of disadvantaged pupils - Ofsted have taken it upon themselves to insist that schools buck a trend which has persisted for at least the last thirty years. As social mobility has stagnated, and the children of the affluent continue to attain high relative grades, schools are being held hostage to a policy framework which systematically discriminates against the least affluent in society in the guise of ‘pupil premium progress’.
Where did the Pupil Premium originate?
In 2005, Policy Exchange, a think tank founded by Michael Gove, produced a report called More Good School Places, which proposed an ‘Advantage Premium’ for pupils in ‘failed schools.’ This would cost £4,2 billion over ten years and would attach additional funds of £4,000 to primary and £6,000 to secondary pupils whose schools were deemed to have ‘failed’.
In their 2010 election manifesto, the Liberal Democrats promised ‘a fair chance for every child’ which would ‘ensure children get the individual attention they need by cutting class sizes, made possible by investing £2.5 billion in schools targeted to help struggling pupils’ and that they would ‘give schools the freedom to make the right choices for their pupils’.
A ‘pupil premium’ would help 1 million disadvantaged children, and would be given to schools which could use £2,500 additional funding per eligible child per year to ‘cut class sizes, attract the best teachers, offer extra one-to-one tuition and provide for after-school and holiday support. This will allow an average primary school to cut classes to 20 and an average secondary school to introduce catch-up classes for 160 pupils.’
The Conservative promised to introduce a ‘pupil premium – extra funding for children from disadvantaged backgrounds’ in their 2010 Manifesto. The manifesto also promised to ‘close the attainment gap between the richest and poorest’.
The coalition agreement published in May 2010 promised that the government would ‘fund a significant premium for disadvantaged pupils from outside the schools budget by reductions in spending elsewhere.’
Criticism of the Pupil Premium
The Institute of Fiscal Studies issued a report in March 2010, prior to the 2010 election. The report found that funding was highly skewed towards schools with a greater number of pupils from deprived backgrounds, and to schools with greater numbers of pupils with special educational needs.
The IFS report refers to an ‘implicit FSM premium’ which was in place prior to 2010, and used this as a measure of the level of targeting towards disadvantage present in current school funding system.
The IFS found that school funding was as follows:
Channel 4’s FactCheck looked into government claims in March 2013, and again in July 2013. ‘The real question is whether the money can really be called a “premium”, if the total resources available for schools actually fall,’ it said in March. ‘The IFS’s best estimate is that we are not quite talking about an overall cut, but there’s not much in it. If inflation were to suddenly go up, the headline might change. And if pupil numbers go up there will be less cash per child.’
In July 2013, FactCheck looked again. ‘Across the country, the pupil premium contributes an average of 1.9 per cent of a primary school’s budget, 1.4 per cent for a secondary school.’ The report continued, ‘77 per cent of primary schools saw their total budgets fall between 2011/12 and 2012/13, according to the DfE report. Some 45 per cent had seen their budgets fall more than 5 per cent. The pupil premium budget may be additional to the flat amount that schools get per pupil, in that it comes from a separate pot, but for most schools – it’s not even replacing what they have lost in standard funding.’
‘So the result, not surprisingly, is that money from the pupil premium has allowed schools to maintain programmes to help deprived pupils, but had not funded new ones. “[Schools] generally used pupil premium money to finance existing forms of support rather than doing anything ‘brand new’”, concludes the report.’
In part 2, I look at the way in which Ofsted has embedded the Pupil Premium as a stick with which to beat schools which serve the disadvantaged.