November 2013


  • 21st Century Revolution
    Global comparisons reveal just how radically the demands of education are changing, says Andreas Schleicher, and how the UK and other systems need to respond or be left behind. More
  • Digital dangers
    Students with special needs are among the most a at risk online but it’s also the area where guidance and examples of good practice are in short supply. Julie Nightingale highlights some of the good practice around for students with special needs and other ‘vulnerable’ groups while they are online. More
  • Don't panic!
    A death or accident can knock an institution sideways but a good disaster plan will enable you to control the immediate fallout and also avoid lasting damage to students, staff and/or reputation, says Richard Bird. More
  • Closing the gap
    From lifts to school to personal mentors and subsidised music lessons, Dorothy Lepkowska looks at the different approaches that schools are taking to maximise the effect of the Pupil Premium. More
  • Take your partners
    If you’re not already a sixth-form collaborator then maybe it’s time to start, says Stephan Jungnitz. More
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From lifts to school to personal mentors and subsidised music lessons, Dorothy Lepkowska looks at the different approaches that schools are taking to maximise the effect of the Pupil Premium.

Closing the gap

A school minibus pulling up outside the house and a teacher knocking on the front door is usually enough to ensure that pupils who should be at school, but aren’t, don’t bunk off again.

“They don’t want people to see that anyone from the school has turned up at home, so to do this once is usually enough. We have even been known to buy alarm clocks for those whose punctuality is poor,” says Karen Millar, deputy head at Canons High School in Harrow, Edgware. “In many homes, these children are the first person in the family to have to get out of bed in the morning.”

Quite how to spend the Pupil Premium (PP) funding can be a challenge. Although schools are not being scrutinised on how they spend the £900 per eligible child, Ofsted will look at whether the strategies they use are narrowing gaps in achievement. Balancing what methods are effective against the costs involved is important.

At Canons, where 28 per cent of the pupils are eligible for the PP, the focus is on individual children, says Karen. The school liaises with its feeder primaries to identify those on free school meals (FSM) early on, and a summer camp offers taster lessons and a chance to meet staff. Once at Canons, the pupils will have access to homework clubs and booster sessions, if needed.

Every PP-eligible child in the school is also assigned a non-teaching mentor who checks their attendance and behaviour and who knows their timetable.

‘Advocates for pupils’

“They are assigned four or five children each and are able to establish relationships with families because they aren’t constrained by a teaching timetable,” Karen says. “They act as advocates for the pupils.”

The methods are reaping success. Unusually, PP students at the school are out-performing their peers in English – 97 per cent achieved expected grades compared with 93 per cent of all others. In maths the gap is just 8 per cent with 71 per cent of PP students gaining expected grades compared with 79 per cent of others.

“We take a very holistic approach,” Karen adds. “Some schools look at how groups of pupils perform but we look at individual students and decide what they need.”

The individual approach is also favoured by Brentside High School in Ealing, west London, where about 40 per cent of the 1,350 students are eligible for PP.

“We try to personalise provision for every child,” says Arwel Jones, the head. “Some are very needy so we may, for example, employ clinical psychologists if necessary. But there are no quick fixes to any of the difficulties these children have and sometimes we have to try something else when one strategy doesn’t work.”

The school uses cognitive ability testing to identify each child’s academic strengths and weaknesses and to establish what interventions are necessary, enabling staff to set minimum targets. A non-teaching student and family education (SAFE) officer in each year group supports children and families in a pastoral role.

“Children are monitored for things like behaviour and attendance and we can look for anomalies, such as a sudden fall in progress, and get to the bottom of it,” says Arwel.

The school also employs a supervisor to monitor the school’s AstroTurf pitch, which attracts up to 40 boys every morning to play football. “Many of these children are PP-eligible and we realised that since they are coming into school early to play football and they are therefore in school on time. The supervisor reminds them when it’s time to finish and get ready for lessons on time,” he adds.

Their strategy is to use the PP on many initiatives, such as subsidising music lessons for some PP pupils, and it is reaping benefits, Arwel says.

“Despite our high proportion of pupils eligible for PP, 71 per cent of year 11s gained five or more A* to C grades including English and maths, and we have 10 per cent more pupils achieving this standard than schools with a similar intake.”

‘Multi-care approach’

At the other end of the spectrum a mere 160 (8 per cent) of pupils at Friesland School in Sandiacre, Nottingham are entitled to PP funding. Kcarrie Valentine, assistant head, describes the strategy used to support their learning as a “multi-care approach”.

“The main thing we have done is appoint a PP ‘champion’ for the pupils, a non-teacher who has responsibility for looking after their welfare and monitoring progress,” Kcarrie says.

An intervention team of two English and two maths teachers also works closely with PP children, doing additional work with them during registration time or PHSE lessons. Under this approach, one Year 8 group of PP students progressed by one level d during the first term. Yet when the intervention strategy switched to Year 9 the group did not sustain the improvement.

“This year we have taken a two-pronged approach and in Year 8 the students are paired with post-16 students doing those subjects at A level. They have to log what they have done with the students and mentor them. Then in Year 9, the pupils move on to work with the teaching staff,” Karrie says.

All PP students also have access to the free daily Toast Club in the school’s support centre, which enables staff to speak to them in one place and find out what’s going on in their lives.

For some schools, administering the PP is a steep learning curve. At King Alfred’s Academy in Wantage, Oxfordshire, 190 (about 10 per cent) of students, are eligible for the funding. At this high-performing school the achievements, or not, of those students have been hidden behind the successes of their peers.

For Simon Spiers, the executive headteacher, this new focus on disadvantaged children has been an eye-opener.

“We have managed to achieve excellent results here without a focus on these pupils, but in the past 15 months we have really turned our attention to where we are as a school and where we want to go.”

In 2012, 75 per cent of students at the school achieved five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths but for PP students it was 44 per cent. In 2013, the gap remained the same but there is clear evidence that some of the strategies have started to work and the percentage of students achieving the expected levels of progress in English and maths has jumped significantly. In 2012 only 53 per cent of PP students made the expected level of progress in English and 45 per cent in maths but in 2013 the figures were 70 per cent and 64 per cent respectively.

Aspirational target

The school has set itself an aspirational target of 90 per cent (five A* to C in English and maths) by 2016 and Simon now believes that this can only be achieved if the PP-eligible students are given greater focus and support.

Assistant Head Gareth Alcott is overseeing the improvement programme and the school began an analysis of the achievement of pupils in three categories: progress in maths and English lessons, attendance, and behaviour.

The focus is on intensive one-to-one work and greater engagement with parents. PP students are tracked every six weeks and those falling behind meet with a senior member of staff and parents to agree short-term action plans.

A reward system means that pupils can earn book tokens or iTunes vouchers if they meet their targets each term. One girl has even been offered singing lessons in return for applying herself at English, maths and science.

Most importantly, the school is making sure that the PP money is spent on the pupils for whom it is intended. Staff have also been given awareness training in the particular issues that may affect children receiving FSM.

“This is a highly successful middle England school so we’re inclined to believe we don’t have the issues of urban schools, but we have to look very closely at who our pupils are and raise the profile of those receiving PP,” Simon adds. “This is a steep learning curve for us but we get it now and are determined to make the necessary changes for these students.”

  • Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education writer and journalist.

Closing the Gap Conference

Tuesday 4 March 2014 in Sheffield

Raising the achievement of disadvantaged students is a key area of focus for all schools. Building on previous ASCL events on the same theme, this conference will feature speakers plus workshops examining some of the strategies developed by schools that are proving successful in ‘closing the gap’.

Find out more/book your place: