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‘Pupil premium’ is at risk of being spent on the wrong children

Ahead of the Education white paper this week, ippr is urging the government to ensure that the new 'pupil premium' is spent on individual children from disadvantaged backgrounds and not diverted within schools to other pupils because of new league table requirements.

ippr supports the pupil premium but is concerned that schools will not spend these funds on the children for whom it is intended. Under the government's plans, additional funds (estimated to be an average of £2,410) will be paid to a school each year for every pupil it has on free school meals, but schools can spend this money as they please. The policy includes no mechanism to guarantee funds will provide additional support to the children who need it.

ippr analysis shows that the government's reforms to qualifications and school league tables make it less likely that the pupil premium will get to the children for whom it is intended. Under the new system:

  • Schools will be held accountable in league tables for how many pupils achieve the proposed English Baccalaureate.
  • Pupils will be awarded an ‘English Bac’ if they attain GCSE grades of A*–C in Maths, English, Science, a modern language and a humanity.
  • The ‘English Bac’ looks set to become the government’s ‘gold standard’ by which schools are judged.
  • Schools will have an incentive to focus extra resources on children likely to do well in those subjects, rather than on children receiving free school meals.
  • The government estimates that only 15 per cent of pupils – likely to be the most academically able – would secure an English Bac under current attainment rates.

ippr argues that in 2009 only 10,000 children eligible for free school meals got grades of A*–C in a modern language – just under one in every 50 of that year’s cohort of pupils.

But this is the maximum number of children on free school meals who could have been awarded an English Bac on the basis of last year's results. In reality the figure will be even lower because those children are unlikely to have all attained A*–C grades in English, Maths, Science and a humanity. Placing the English Bac at the heart of the new accountability framework will therefore provide incentives for schools to divert resources away from pupils on free school meals.

The government is due to propose new minimum floor standards for schools, which focus on attainment and pupil progression. This is a welcome recognition of the need for robust intervention where schools are under-performing. However, this will not help those children on free school meals who are not in the worst performing schools, nor will it make sure that within those schools resources are targeted at those who need extra support.

ippr recommends the following:

  • The pupil premium should be properly allocated to children who receive free school meals, through a Pupil Premium Entitlement (PPE).
  • Extra funding should be used for extra catch-up tuition, small group tuition or one-to-one teaching to stretch the most able low-income pupils.
  • Rather than schools being held to account for their performance in academic subjects, schools should receive a School Report Card that measures overall attainment as well as the progress of children on free school meals.

Nick Pearce, ippr Director, said:

'The government is sending a confused message to schools. On the one hand, it wants the pupil premium to be used to help low-income children, but on the other hand it is incentivising schools to focus resources on those middle class children most likely to do well in the academic subjects contained in the English Bac.

'The pupil premium should be directly allocated to children who receive free school meals, to provide extra catch-up tuition or one-to-one teaching to stretch the most able pupils. If the government does not revisit this policy, schools will be encouraged to use the pupil premium to boost the results of the most able.'

Notes to editors

ippr's alternative plan for a pupil premium contains the following elements:

  • A new Pupil Premium Entitlement for all children who receive free school meals, to ensure that the pupil premium is spent directly on things like one to one tuition for the most disadvantaged children.
  • Schools to be held to account not just for pupils’ overall attainment, but also for improving the attainment of children receiving free schools meals, through an annual School Report Card, as has worked successfully in New York City's schools. This would include a single composite grade which would be used to measure the school’s overall success.

New ippr research, based on official government figures, shows that if the government measures school performance by success in the academic subjects that will make up the English Bac, schools are likely to channel resources towards pupils who they expect to perform well in those subjects. Currently only a minority of children on free school meals attain 5 A*–C GCSEs in these subjects:

  • in 2009 only 26.6 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals achieved 5 or more A*–C grade GCSEs or equivalent including English and Maths, compared to 54.2 per cent of pupils not eligible for free school meals – an attainment gap of 27.6 percentage points
  • only 13.9 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals achieved A*–C in a modern foreign language, compared to 30.4 per cent of pupils not eligible for free school meals – an attainment gap of 16.5 percentage points
  • 34 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals achieved 2 A*–C grades in science subjects, compared to 57 per cent of pupils not eligible for free school meals – an attainment gap of 23 percentage points.

Data for 2009
(FSM: eligible for free school meals)

 

 Number of pupils

 5+ A*–C incl English and Maths (%)

A*–C in modern foreign language (%) 

2+ A*–C in sciences (%)

FSM

74,378

26.6

13.9

34.0

Non-FSM

504,244

54.2

30.4

57.0

Unclassified

223

47.1

33.2

45.3

All pupils

578,845

50.7

28.3

54.0

Contact 

Tim Finch, Director of Communications: 020 7470 6110 / 07595 920 899 / t.finch@ippr.org


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