The aim of the pupil premium, a Liberal Democrat-led Coalition initiative, was to close the educational gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. Cordelia Barnes assesses the success of this policy.
Pupil premium provides schools with additional funding to be spent on disadvantaged pupils to ensure they benefit from the same opportunities as pupils from richer families and thereby to raise achievement of these children. The current Conservative has retained its commitment to the policy since the 2015 General Election.
The initiative was originally implemented in April 2011 under the Education Secretary Michael Gove and Children’s Minister Sarah Teather. Schools in England received a pupil premium of £900 in 2014 (originally £430 in 2013) for each pupil they accepted from homes where the annual income is less than £16,000. It is specific, additional funding provided to support the education of pupils known to be eligible for free school meals (FSM), pupils who have been eligible for FSM at any point in the last six years, children who have been looked after continuously for a period of six months and children whose parents are currently serving in the armed forces. Headteachers are encouraged to spend this premium on more one-to-one tuition for disadvantaged and struggling students as well as reducing class sizes to enable improvement in children however there is no set requirement of how this premium should be spent. The pupil premium was a core Liberal Democrat manifesto promise, although it was also included in the Conservative manifesto and was implemented under the Coalition government. Two million children between the ages of five and 16 qualify for extra funding, out of seven million school-aged children. The government’s main aim behind the policy is to “close the gap” between richer and poorer children by improving academic performance, providing more opportunity and preventing poorer children from being “condemned to ever poorer employment prospects, narrower social and cultural horizons.”(Michael Gove) thereby ending the cycle of disadvantage and inequality.
To ensure that the funds are being used in an appropriate way schools are accountable for their use of this funding. Since September 2012, schools have been required to publish online information about their Pupil Premium allocation and how they plan to spend it in the coming year. The non-ministerial department Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills will include in their reports about school performance their use of Pupil Premium. They will inspect the level of Pupil Premium funding received by the school, how the school has spent the Pupil Premium, why it has decided to spend it in that way and the impact the funding has had on the achievement of pupils. In a report in July 2014 Ofsted called for schools to “prove it or lose it” showing how funding must be made appropriately or they shall be held to account. There is also an incentive for schools to boost their attainment as, such is the importance being placed on the £2.5 billion investment, that the Department of Education is providing additional prizes of up to £10,000 for schools which can evidence the most impact of investment choices in its Pupil Premium Awards. This initiative has proved to have some effect as the most recent data for key stage 2 shows the gap between pupils eligible for free school meals and all other pupils narrowed from 20% (2011) to 17% (2012). Professor Becky Francis has called for more schools to be eligible for the premium due to its good effect “We have seen through the awards and many examples beyond that schools can narrow the gap. What we need to do now is ensure that those who are not using the premium well have the challenge and support to do the same.” Therefore with the processes in place to ensure suitable spending the programme has seen to have a positive impact upon disadvantaged children.
However, the Pupil Premium Initiative can not be seen as entirely effective due to its impact on regions where there are far more disadvantaged children. The London Council warned the Coalition government that the pupil premium could “disadvantage the poorest parts of the country” and that “children in the capital stand to lose out by £16m”. The argument is that more money should be directed proportionally around the country where costs may differ. This is especially the case in London where teaching and other staff wages exceeds the rest of the country. The capital also has the largest regional share of deprived pupils with almost a quarter – 23% – of pupils eligible for free school meals thus making the impact on the area even greater. At the moment, the wealthiest parts of the country receive the same for each child from a low-income home in their area than the poorest areas do which creates a sense of imbalance as with more disadvantaged children more provisions need to be in place to ensure schools are of a satisfactory standard. London Councils, which represents all of the capital’s boroughs, has calculated that under current plans, London will lose £16m, equivalent to about £50 for every eligible pupil. This is further exacerbated by the implementation of the premium alongside universal credit and free school meals for all infants which make it more difficult to identify disadvantaged pupils. Therefore not all schools will receive the appropriate amount of funding for the disadvantaged students and with other cuts to their budget many are worse off than before the initiative. Thus the effectiveness of the impact of pupil premium can be contested.
The current conditions for eligibility can be found on the gov.uk website at the link below