In this post, I’ll look at the way schools have weathered the storm the new Pupil Premium orthodoxy has unleashed, how all schools have realised that they are being, or might be, poleaxed by Ofsted’s bad use of bad ‘Pupil Premium’ data - and at what we can do about it.
Helping disadvantaged pupils didn't start with the Pupil Premium
One curious aspect of the discussion of Pupil Premium in mainstream media is the lack of historical perspective on the support which is and has been provided for disadvantaged pupils in state schools. To read various reports about the ‘additional funding’ provided via the Pupil Premium (which is significantly less than many schools were already spending) and what it is being spent on, you would assume that schools had not been supporting disadvantaged children prior to its introduction, and that schools were being given more money than they had been given previously.
This simply isn’t the case. Ofsted have just published a report called ‘The pupil premium: an update’ which notes that, “the most frequent use of (Pupil Premium) funding is to pay for additional staff, including teachers and teaching assistants, who deliver one-to-one support and small group tuition, typically focused on English and mathematics. In general, secondary schools in the sample were more likely to employ additional teachers, and primary schools were more likely to employ additional teaching assistants.” (p10)
But, as those working in education will know, schools have been using additional funding - provided by both national and local government - to pay for a wide range of initiatives to support the disadvantaged - such as those mentioned above - for a very long time, as I showed in part 1 of this article.
A DfE report entitled ‘Evaluation of pupil premium’ was published in July 2013. This report, which used a rigorous research design and was independently produced by academics at the Universities of Newcastle and Manchester, noted that prior to the Pupil Premium, a typical secondary school “offered the services of an inclusion and attendance officer, an English as an Additional Language consultant, an inclusion unit providing alternative curriculum and anger management courses, a range of extra-curricular activities, in-class teacher and TA support, and revision classes for older pupils, as well as an explicit focus on ‘vulnerable’ pupils in class, and funding for pupils from poorer families so that they can participate in all school-related activities.” (P38)
As the report states, ‘most schools had been providing support for disadvantaged pupils before the introduction of the Pupil Premium’ (p50).
As well as analysing data from the National Pupil Database, this report based its findings on an initial set of case studies, followed by a survey of 1,240 schools and in depth case studies on a further 34 schools in which head teachers, school business managers, senior leaders responsible for work on educational disadvantage, and staff members managing relevant budgets were all interviewed. It was a rigorous examination of what was actually happening in schools.
As one head explained, the Pupil Premium was 'not the driver of schools’ responses to disadvantage, but () the current means of doing what they see as necessary.' He said, ‘What we say is, this is what we’d like for the children, and this is what we think we should give them, and let’s find a way of doing it. If that happens to be the Pupil Premium money, or it happens to be some other pot we use, the money doesn’t drive the approach. The principles drive the approach, and what we want to achieve is what drives how we spend the money.' (P70)
It’s also worth noting that the report found that most schools were using additional funding to support children in broadly the same ways which they had been doing before the Pupil Premium was brought into being.
“Finally, it is notable that, for all their differences, the responses of these () schools to the Pupil Premium are remarkably similar. Across primary and secondary phases, and across mainstream and special schools, the broad dimensions of how schools understand and respond to disadvantage, and how they use the Pupil Premium to sustain their provision remain much the same. This is also true of the case study sample as a whole and insofar as it is true of schools as a whole, it might indicate that there is considerable opportunity for schools that are engaged in essentially the same enterprise to learn from each other.” (P97)
In summary, schools have been working to support disadvantaged children, using money provided by the government, for a long time. The Pupil Premium is simply a rebadging of a part of the same funding which schools have been receiving, with a catchy name and an explicit link to a very blunt measure of poverty: Those who have received Free School Meals at any point in the previous six years. It’s not new money, nor is it doing very much different. Schools have simply kept on doing the good work they had already been doing prior to the renaming of a portion of financial support as the ‘Pupil Premium’.
So why are schools increasingly aware of the downside to this rebadging of support for the disadvantaged?
There are more and more reports of schools reeling at the unfair judgements which are being made by inspection teams. Whilst in part 2 of this article, I noted that schools which serve the disadvantaged were being treated unfairly by the new Inspection regime, schools with very small numbers of pupils who qualify for the Pupil Premium have also been downgraded by Ofsted. The Pupil Premium orthodoxy is poleaxing schools across the country.
Most of those working in schools have now realised that Ofsted judgements are, in 99% of cases, based solely on data. The ‘Achievement of Pupils’ grade clearly drives both the ‘Overall effectiveness’ and ‘Quality of Teaching’ grades. This was clearly demonstrated by Policy Exchange’s Watching the Watchmen report from earlier this year, which noted that, “the Achievement of Pupils sub grade correlates with the overall grade in around 99% of cases.' Robert Peal’s latest report for Civitas, Playing the Game, criticises Ofsted’s grading of teaching, saying “as a crowning absurdity, in 97 per cent of Ofsted observations, the ‘Quality of teaching’ grade simply mirrors the ‘Achievement of Pupils’ grade, suggesting its existence is largely redundant.”
Now that Achievement of Pupils is explicitly linked to the progress made by those in receipt of the Pupil Premium, schools have begun to feel the full impact of the waves of stupidity which are washing over them. Those working in schools have simply stared in wide-eyed disbelief as Ofsted Inspectors have made unfair judgements on the teaching and learning in their schools, based on the progress of the small number of children who qualify for the Pupil Premium.
The current School Inspection says, for example, that Achievement of Pupils must be graded inadequate if, “for pupils for whom the pupil premium provides support, the proportions making and exceeding expected progress from the different starting points in English or in mathematics are consistently well below those of other pupils and show little or no improvement.” Looking at the most extreme cases of downgraded judgement - all the way from outstanding to Inadequate - it is clear that the Pupil Premium orthodoxy is poleaxing schools.
The following gradings and comments should rip away the curtain behind which Inspectors are hiding, leaving the Great Oz of Ofsted struggling to maintain the fiction that Ofsted make judgements which are not made on Pupil Premium data:
Jolesfield Church of England Primary School, Sussex, June 2013
Was Outstanding, now Inadequate. 27 children per year group. 20 out of 194 children qualify for Pupil Premium in 2013 (10%), a total of just £26,000 out of £734,000 total budget in 2013/14 – 3.54% of total budget.
“In English the gap (between pupils known to be eligible for free school meals and supported by pupil premium funding and other pupils in KS2 SATs) represented about two terms’ progress and in mathematics about half a year. In both English and mathematics these gaps were smaller than those seen nationally. Through the school, the progress made by these pupils is () too often inadequate.“
Heanor Gate Science College, Nottinghamshire, September 2013
Was Outstanding, now Inadequate. 364 out of 1385 children qualify for Pupil Premium in 2013 (26%), a total of £340,000 out of £8,030,142 total budget in 2013/14 – 4.24% of total budget.
From the latest Ofsted report: “The college’s leaders could not provide detailed information on the impact of pupil premium funding.” “Despite the decline in English results, a greater proportion of pupil premium funding was directed towards mathematics. The headteacher was unable to show the specific impact of the extra funding the college has received. “
The school’s performance tables show that 32% of PP children achieve Percentage achieving 5+ A*-C GCSEs (or equivalent) including English and maths GCSEs compared to 59% of other pupils.
Meadow Primary School, Cambridgeshire, July 2013
Was Outstanding, now Inadequate. 22 out of 266 children qualify for Pupil Premium in 2013, a total of £20,570 out of £934,192 total budget in 2012/13 – 2.2% of total budget.
“The spending of the pupil premium has had little effect in closing the gap between the achievement of pupils for whom it is intended and that of other pupils in the school.“
(This school converted to academy status on 1st April 2014).
Grenoside Community Primary School, Sheffield, June 2013
Was Outstanding, now inadequate. 31 out of 330 children qualify for Pupil Premium in 2013, a total of £40,300 out of £1,305,480 total budget in 2013/14 – 3.09% of total budget.
“The school development plan identifies improving the progress of some groups of pupils as a priority, based upon last year’s national test results at Key Stage 2. Pupils known to be eligible for support through the pupil premium in particular were identified. However, leaders actions have not brought about an improvement for groups such as this. Leaders’ evaluations of whether the pupil premium funding has led to an improvement in the quality of education and progress for the pupils it is intended to support are weak.”
The school’s performance tables show that 67% of PP children achieve level 4 or above in reading, writing and maths compared to 88% of other pupils.
Whilst these are clearly extreme cases, there are many, many other schools which have been downgraded a grade or two, which has a significant impact on the schools involved. And now, any school is at risk of a perverse judgement based on the Pupil Premium orthodoxy.
So how should schools respond to the pressure Ofsted is putting on Pupil Premium results?
Firstly, the methodology underpinning the 'expected progress' measure within RAISEonline should be completely overhauled. The expectation that a school can only be rated ‘good’ or above if, ‘from each different starting point, the proportions of pupils making expected progress, and the proportions exceeding expected progress, in English and in mathematics are close to or above national figures,’ will always – obviously - mean that some schools will always be below average. This makes no sense whatsoever, as it automatically damns a significant proportion of schools in the eyes of Ofsted (additionally, it fundamentally misunderstands what drives attainment - but that’s another story).
This is, unfortunately, out of the control of those at the chalkface. It’s worth finding out more about the way in which data is misused in performance tables and RAISEonline, but inspectors are not likely to be interested in perfectly valid criticisms of the ‘tools’ they have to work with.
Secondly, we should expect all pupils to make progress which is appropriate to each individual pupil. Ofsted says that, for a school to be rated good or above, 'for pupils for whom the pupil premium provides support, the proportions (must be) similar to, or above, those for other pupils in the school or (be) improving.’ This means that different pupils in a school are expected to make different levels of progress as groups, which makes no sense whatsoever, on any level.
As a result of Pupil Premium pressure, schools have little option but to become experts on the interpretation of data.
Schools should therefore:
Use and understand the effect of age on an individual’s performance. This is particularly important where you have small cohorts*, in which each child contributes significantly to any overall picture. You need to know whether any cohorts being compared to ‘older’ or ‘younger’ on average, and if any children, for example, were born prematurely or have had any significant periods of illness. Comparing one cohort of children with an average birthdate of May 15th with another with an average birthdate of Jan 15th will always give a distorted impression of a given cohort having ‘better’ or ‘worse’ results. This is even more important when you are looking at sub-groups of cohorts, such as PP or non-PP children.
Understand where progress is ‘good’ or ‘not good’ according to RAISEonline. Inspectors will use the ‘information’ in RAISEonline to pre-judge you, so you have to understand what they are likely to think before they arrive. They will come into school looking for ‘evidence’ to justify their prejudices. You need to be aware what they are likely to say so that you can rapidly counter any unfair criticisms - particularly of teaching and learning - which they might try to justify using 'evidence' gathered during their time in school.
Use some Pupil premium money to find out who understands data in your school. If there isn’t anyone in school, then use some PP money to find someone outside of school who does understand data. Ofsted will judge you on data. You have to protect your school against a negative judgement driven by potentially biased or incorrect interpretation of data.
Build models to show how and why children in your school make the progress they do. Even if you are as sceptical as I am about ‘data’ in schools, you have to prepare your case. Show what you do to help children get better. Explain why this works. Even if what you have to say is a fiction based on what you think happens, have something ready to convince Ofsted when they arrive.
Write to Ofsted, your MP, both the education secretary and her shadow, and newspapers. Explain that schools have been supporting disadvantaged children for a long time, that the Pupil Premium is a political rebadging of ongoing funding, and that the Ofsted framework seeks to rapidly resolve a long standing dilemma in education in a way which penalises schools unfairly.
Finally, don’t take the Pupil Premium orthodoxy lying down. Judging schools by the effects of Pupil Premium funding is an untested political initiative which has been accepted with astonishingly little public comment in England. School leaders should be robust in their public criticism of the way Ofsted have rushed to amend its school inspection framework to incorporate the untested political posturing embodied by the Pupil Premium, and by the way in which schools are being downgraded for failing to solve problems beyond their reach.
Schools have been working to support the disadvantaged for a long time. A political rebadging of the financing of that support is opportunistic and Ofsted’s political role in poleaxing schools is incredibly unhelpful. The Pupil premium orthodoxy needs to be challenged, and challenged robustly.
*I use 'cohort' to mean children within one year group.