The inspectorate has today published a progress report on how well schools in England are using the extra funding they receive to raise the attainment of their more disadvantaged pupils.
The report finds that while it is too early to point to any significant narrowing of the gap nationally between more affluent and poorer children in key tests and exams at 11 and 16, school leaders are generally spending the pupil premium more effectively than at any time since the funding was introduced in 2011.
HM Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said that this improving picture could be credited in part to Ofsted’s strong emphasis on the issue, which was concentrating the minds of headteachers and governors alike. Heads now know that their schools will not receive a positive judgement unless they can demonstrate that they are focused on improving outcomes for eligible pupils. A number of previously outstanding secondary schools have recently been downgraded after inspectors judged their pupil premium money was not being spent effectively or the progress and attainment of poorer children was lagging behind other groups.
Every inspection report now includes a commentary on the attainment and progress of pupils eligible for free school meals and an evaluation of how this compares with other children. Inspectors are also increasingly recommending external reviews of a school’s use of the pupil premium in under-performing institutions.
Today’s report finds that school leaders, overall, are demonstrating a strong commitment to closing the attainment gap, forensically targeting interventions and putting in place robust tracking systems.
There is a strong association between a school’s overall effectiveness and the impact of the pupil premium. Of 151 schools sampled, the attainment gap between free school meal children and their peers was closing in all 86 schools judged by Ofsted to be good or outstanding for overall effectiveness. In 12 of these schools, this gap had narrowed to virtually nothing.
In these good and outstanding schools, governing bodies are taking strategic responsibility for ensuring the pupil premium funding improves the teaching and support for eligible pupils.
However, today’s report shows that weak leadership and governance remains an obstacle to narrowing the attainment gap in a significant minority of schools, particularly in those judged inadequate for overall effectiveness.
Inspectors found that the most common uses of the pupil premium funding are to pay for additional teaching staff, booster classes, reading support, raising aspiration programmes and ‘learning mentors’. Many schools also use the money to provide after-school, weekend and holiday sessions. Spending is typically focused on English and maths.
Today’s report also includes data that shows wide variations across local authority areas in terms of the achievement of poorer pupils in tests and exams at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4. For example, many London boroughs have well above average proportions of free school meal children achieving five or more good GCSEs, while eligible children are least likely to achieve this benchmark in places like Barnsley, Portsmouth, South Gloucestershire, North Lincolnshire and Northumberland. The change in these proportions between 2012 and 2013 also varies considerably – from a 10 per cent fall in Thurrock to a 13 per cent increase in Windsor and Maidenhead.
HM Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said:
One of the greatest challenges this country faces is closing the unacceptable gap that remains between poorer children and their better-off classmates when it comes to educational outcomes.
As Chief Inspector, I am passionate about improving the prospects of our least advantaged children so I am encouraged by the clear signs in today’s report that more effective spending and monitoring of the pupil premium is starting to make a positive difference in many schools.
The success of London illustrates vividly that poverty should not be an automatic predictor of failure and so the government needs to tackle those parts of the country like Barnsley where poorer children are still getting a raw deal.
Ofsted, for its part, will continue to focus relentlessly on how schools are using this money to ensure these pupils don’t get left behind.
Notes to editors
- Pupil premium is additional funding given to state schools in England to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils. Funding is paid, for the most part, to schools according to the number of pupils who have been registered as eligible for free school meals at any point in the last six years, or have been in care for six months or longer. In 2013/14 schools received £953 for each eligible primary-aged pupil and £900 for each eligible secondary-aged pupil.
- This Ofsted report, ‘The pupil premium: an update’, is based on evidence from 151 inspections carried out between January 2013 and December 2013; a textual review of 1,600 school inspection reports published between September 2013 and March 2014; and national performance data for 2013. In February 2013 Ofsted published ‘The pupil premium: how schools are spending the funding successfully to maximise achievement’. In September 2012 Ofsted published ‘The pupil premium: how schools are using the pupil premium funding to raise achievement for disadvantaged pupils’.
- Key Stage 2 refers to pupils aged between seven and 11; Key Stage 4 refers to pupils aged between 14 and 16.
- The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children’s social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.