School leaders are best placed to assess their pupils’ needs and use the funding to improve attainment, drawing on evidence of effective practice. It is up to school leaders to decide how to spend the pupil premium.1
‘Closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers is the greatest challenge facing English schools. The gap is stubborn because its causes are entrenched and complex, and most lie beyond the control of schools and educators. However, it is clear that schools can make a difference.2
In 2011, the Coalition government introduced the Pupil Premium (PP), which is additional funding for disadvantaged students. The funding is left to ‘school leaders’ to make informed decisions. Ten years later that belief looks heroic.
This research considered six schools from across the country, OFSTED rated from outstanding downwards. The government site3 uses the description Results by pupil characteristics to publish the attainment of disadvantaged students. It’s these which I’ve used to create the snapshot of institutional failure. All the statistics are from that site except for the Pupil Premium (PP) figures which are from individual school websites.
Grade 5+ GCSE in English and Mathematics is the Gold Standard as it’s widely used for 16+ educational choices (see Addendum). As can be seen, two schools our of six have a failure rate of 80%+ in this key metric. Every school has a statistically significant attainment gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students. The narrowest attainment gap of the six schools, is a catastrophic 17 percentage points, which was achieved by an ‘outstanding’ school in Leeds.
It’s claimed that: “The gap is stubborn because its causes are entrenched and complex, and most lie beyond the control of schools and educators.” Is this counsel of despair acceptable?4 Covid-19 sparked a mini-educational revolution. Schools discovered the digital divide and how disadvantaged students couldn’t access Zoom lessons at home. Schools blame disadvantaged students for their failure to achieve Grade 5+ GCSEs in English and Mathematics. This utterly ignores years of research on why there is a collective failure. Disadvantaged students have well understood educational needs which aren’t being met.
A random selection of secondary schools
St James School, Exeter OFSTED Good PP £292,650 (2020-1)
English and Mathematics Grade 5+ Disadvantaged 26% LEA (non-disadvantaged) 47%
St Peter’s Church of England Aided School, Exeter OFSTED Good PP £299,808 (2020-1)
English and Mathematics Grade 5+ Disadvantaged 29% LEA (non-disadvantaged) 47%
Co-Op Academy, Leeds OFSTED Requires Improvement PP £656,588 (2020-1)
English and Mathematics Grade 5+ Disadvantaged 14% LEA (non-disadvantaged) 50%
Roundhay School, Leeds OFSTED Outstanding PP £308,465 (2020-1)
English and Mathematics Grade 5+ Disadvantaged 33% LEA (non-disadvantaged) 50%
Jane Austen College, Norwich OFSTED Good PP £114,454 (2020-1)
English and Mathematics Grade 5+ Disadvantaged 33% LEA (non-disadvantaged) 45%
Thorpe St Andrews School and Sixth Form Ofsted Outstanding PP £169,035 (2020-1)
English and Mathematics Grade 5+ Disadvantaged 17% LEA (non-disadvantaged) 45%
As can be seen Thorpe St Andrews doesn’t achieve their dismal ambition to be like everybody else.
Grade 5+ in English and Mathematics is the Gold Standard for GCSE. Schools complacently accept, as a fact, that they’re helpless. One school OFSTED rated as ‘outstanding’ had an 83% failure rate for their disadvantaged students. This illustrates an institutional acceptance of failure by schools and OFSTED. The strategy for closing the attainment gap is throwing hundreds of millions of pounds at it. PP funding isn’t competently spent on disadvantaged students. The hundreds of millions of pounds spent by schools is wasted, as they don’t know what they’re doing.
Addendum: Covid-19 and GCSE results
Both the 2020 and 2021 GCSE examinations were teacher assessed. It’s immediately apparent that those results have not been used in a customary way. The government website doesn’t use them and most schools don’t publish anything more than a summary. This is difficult to understand. Are these GCSE results problematic? That is, are they fatally flawed and a pale imitation of the real thing? Whatever the answer, it places a severe constraint on understanding the educational direction of travel for disadvantaged students.
4 Enoch Powell “For a politician to complain about the press is like a ship’s captain complaining about the sea.” The Big Apple: “Politicians who complain about the press are like sailors complaining about the sea” (barrypopik.com)