For those who aren’t aware, the Pupil Premium Awards were introduced in 2013. In essence, schools were asked to ensure that one group of pupils made better progress than another based purely on each group’s socio-economic status, and were rewarded for pupil results which most independent observers would understand to be randomly distributed. Schools had to do little other than construct a story to be given (much welcome) additional money, but provided the story was reasonably believable, no-one asked any difficult questions.
As I noted last year, the Pupil Premium awards struck me as an “example of politicians taking a serious problem, that of chronic educational underachievement by some people in very difficult circumstances and turning it into a game show. It demeans all involved.” I also noted that it was “a sad indictment on the level of educational debate that I haven’t read any criticism of this farce anywhere else, which has forced me to write this.”
I still haven’t read any critical commentary about the Pupil Premium awards. The best piece of which I’m aware was this, which was a response to this piece I wrote for Schools Week about my concerns.
I was, and am, concerned that rewarding luck isn’t a formula to beat disadvantage.
I’ve no idea whether my criticisms have influenced the latest changes revealed in the 2016 Pupil Premium Awards. Here is an overview of what is new:
- You need more than three children to be eligible for the Pupil Premium (Infant and middle schools now need 6 KS2 or 9 KS3 children, and primary and secondary schools need unspecified ‘high percentages’ of disadvantaged pupils).
- Secondary schools also need high value added scores for disadvantaged pupils, although, once again, this is unspecified.
- Someone might need to visit your school to discuss your pupil premium strategies with staff and pupils.
- You need to confirm there are no financial or safeguarding investigations ongoing at your school.
- Schools which fit the narrow criteria have been sent a letter from the DfE, and have been invited to apply.
Inviting the eligible schools to apply seems sensible, given the fact all the other schools in the country are deemed to be unsuccessful in their use of the £2.5 billion distributed to schools via the Pupil Premium. Rather than waste anyone’s time this year, only a select few schools have been asked to participate.
All this means that hardly any schools are in the running. Of the 20,000 primary schools in England and Wales, just 425 or 2.5% of all primary schools and only 147 or 4.3% of all secondary schools are in with a chance. Yep, less than 3% of primary and secondary schools are deemed to be doing enough for their disadvantaged pupils to be rewarded for doing so. Which says something for the awards, or the policy, or something.
It would appear that each of the 572 schools which have received a letter from Sam Gyimah has also qualified as a ‘2016 Local Award Winner’, whatever that might mean. It does mean that there are lots of local news stories, which might be a good thing – except that readers might assume that other schools are somehow ‘failing’ where Local Award Winners are ‘succeeding’, which might not help with the recruitment and retention crisis engulfing teaching.
The 572 2016 ‘winners’ represent a big decrease on 2015, when just over a thousand schools (950 Primaries and 109 Secondaries) were deemed good enough. On these figures, anyone would think schools are getting worse at using Pupil Premium money…
Roll up, roll up. Get your raffle tickets here!
Of course, the biggest change between last year’s awards and this year’s is that we now have a Conservative government rather than a Coalition. This may explain why, instead of giving away £4.3 m, this year the awards are considerably more, ahem, cost effective – which of course a euphemism for ‘they’re cheaper’.
For 2016, rather than money, schools get ‘awards in kind’ in what amounts to an educational charity raffle. Winners might get to:
- Take part in music sessions
- Take part in art workshops
- Visit museums
- See a play or theatrical performance
- Visit various businesses
- Have some CPD
No doubt all of these things will be wonderful, but it looks like the Pupil Premium Awards might not see quite as many entries, or as much press interest, in 2016 as 2015.
Get your glad rags on
Interestingly, the lavish awards ceremony will be repeated, and the promotional bandwagon is in full flow. Tracey Emin will present the ceremony, and Andreas Schleicher - of PISA and OECD infamy - will chair the judging panel.
All of this makes perfect sense, of course, once you realise that the Pupil Premium Awards are a promotional tool, designed to be ‘powerful drivers of behaviour change’. That’s fine, of course, and governments will use many different ‘levers’ to try achieve their goals.
In a time of increasingly precarious school financing, however, the Pupil Premium has become essential funding for many schools working with large numbers of disadvantaged children. Yes, the money has largely replicated money which had previously been distributed via other means. And yes, the way in which the Pupil Premium has been implemented has pole-axed schools which serve the disadvantaged.
But the baffling thing about the Pupil Premium Awards is that the government seems to think that just 3% of primary and Secondary schools are doing a good job for their disadvantaged pupils. The implication is that the other 97% are somehow ‘failing’. Which is a rather depressing thought.