The pupil premium is given to all publicly funded primary and secondary schools, in a move to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and close the gap between them and their peers. It is paid to schools according to the number of children either in care or who have been eligible for free school meals at any point in the last six years.
The budget for the pupil premium has risen quite significantly each year since its introduction, reaching £1.9m in the 2013/14 financial year and set to rise to £2.5bn next year. Payment is made directly to schools (as they are best placed to assess what additional provision their pupils need) who must then demonstrate how they are using the funds. They must also provide evidence to show the impact their initiatives are having upon both pupil progression and the reduction in the attainment gap.
Whilst the pupil premium provides a very welcome boost to school funding, particularly in areas of significant depravation, there are flaws in the system. Probably the most confusing aspect which head teachers and their governing body must grapple with, is that the overlap between pupils receiving free school meals or in care, and those that are falling behind, is not as large as many people might think. According to the Department for Education’s national pupil data base for 2012/13, only 26% of pupils who were eligible for free school meals were actually low attaining. Of course, these are average statistics and some schools may experience a much higher correlation, but for many head teachers this presents a fundamental dilemma.
If a school focusses its pupil premium funding exclusively on disadvantaged children, even though many of them may be performing at or above expected levels, it actually runs the risk of widening the attainment gap of pupils who are lagging behind but not eligible for free school meals nor in care. If the ultimate aim is to bridge the achievement gap, as it surely must be, then the pupil premium is best directed towards the wider group of children who are struggling to keep abreast of their peers.
Investment in a new school building, designed to inspire pupils and to enhance learning ability, is one way in which a school can address the needs of all pupils progressing more slowly than average. A Learning Escape eco-classroom will bathe its occupants in natural light, which has a proven effect upon learning, concentration and behaviour. A highly adaptable internal structure can be achieved with the inclusion of an Accordial wall system. This allows several groups to be accommodated at any one time, or for the classroom to be used as one big space in which to energise and motivate those pupils most in need of a boost.