Pupil Premium isn’t just being used to hold schools hostage to the vagaries of their intakes by Ofsted. The Department of Education is in on the act too, with the ludicrous Pupil Premium Awards.
The Awards which don’t reward what they say they reward
The Pupil Premium awards were first awarded in 2013, with Nick Clegg giving three lucky schools £3,000 each. A further 22 schools were given some money ‘in recognition of the way they have pioneered the use of the pupil premium () to help those children reach their potential and reduce educational inequalities.’
Mr Clegg gave away some more money in 2014, when three schools won £10,000 and 3 runners up were given £3,000 each. 21 schools were given money in all. This time, there was a dedicated website for the awards. This time, the money was given to ‘schools that have done the most with their funding to help close the performance gap between their poorest pupils and their peers’.
Except that this simply isn’t true. The Pupil Premium Awards simply line up every school in the country and then selects the schools with the best test scores. Well, not quite every school in the country. Only schools which are Good or Outstanding according to Ofsted count, although since those rating are based on results, that’s no real surprise. You have to have a few children who’ve attracted Pupil Premium money, but not many (three will do). Oh, and – as will Ofsted – your non-disadvantaged pupils must make less progress than your disadvantaged pupils. Or as the criteria put it, you must:
‘Show good improvement for disadvantaged pupils in () results. The judges () want to see evidence that clearly shows the educational attainment of disadvantaged pupils rising at a faster rate than their peers, but in the context of all pupils’ performance improving.’ (My emphasis)
So these schools must be doing amazing things with the additional cash from the Pupil Premium, no?
Well… what did these schools do with the small amounts of Pupil Premium money they were given to deserve the prize money they received? Er… nothing, as it happens. They were given the money not based on their ‘pioneering use of the Pupil Premium’, but on their test results alone. Whilst some of the schools no doubt spent their PP money wisely – and I’m sure the schools were very happy to take the government’s cash, the award simply reflected the fact that they got lucky with their cohorts, and their test scores were better than the test scores of other schools.
So how much can we get next year?
For 2015, the boat has well and true been pushed out, with extraordinary amount of money being given award to random schools. The total prize pot has skyrocketed, with awards of £250,000 for the winning Secondary School and £100,000 for the luckiest Primary School. An additional £4,000,000 (that’s right, FOUR MILLION POUNDS) will be given away on top of this. That’s right, £4,350,000 pounds given away to schools which have to do absolutely nothing whatsoever to be in with a shout.
Eh? I don’t have to do anything? No. As the 2015 website confirms, ‘We will analyse the national test results of primary schools and the examination results of secondary schools and determine which schools have demonstrated the most sustained improvement in achievement for disadvantaged pupils. The schools with the best performance will receive at least a qualifying award of £5000 for secondary schools and £1000 for primary schools.’ So you are eligible for the cash based purely on your test results.
Hang on, I thought we could win more? You could. But then you have to make some stuff up.
Make stuff up? You can’t simply get the big money without jumping through a hoop or two. We want to give you the cash. All we need is some kind of justification for giving you a bigger prize.
Like what? Oh, just make something up. We have to be able to get some positive publicity, so we need a story. Anything will do, really.
Can you give me an example? Yes, no problem. Remember the 25 winners in 2014? We could only make up one story for the free giveaway. Basically, the head read something and had a chat with some people, and then did something it would probably have done anyway, which everybody then decided worked (and Ofsted loved it too!). In 2013, there were three case studies, which are all perfectly sensible post-hoc, evidence-free explanations of success. You should be able to come up with some kind of similar Halo Effect to explain why your test results were better than everyone else’s. Easy.
I exaggerate somewhat, for comic effect. But only somewhat. And it’s not really funny. This 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, and it’s 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.
Instead of a fancy dinner, and few uncritical puff pieces in the media, the money used to pay for this daft publicity stunt could be used elsewhere, rewarding something which someone somewhere has actually done to help the disadvantaged in our society. Congratulations to the schools given the money. I hope they have spent it well. But the Pupil Premium Awards are a sad indictment politicians playing politics with people's lives.