• The venue for the conference: EDEN Building, Liverpool Hope University

Pupil Premium Conference 2016

On 8 July, Educate joined teaching professionals from across the Liverpool city region for School Improvement Liverpool’s Pupil Premium Conference. School Improvement Liverpool is a leading education service provider in the North West, set up to offer support and challenge schools to improve in all aspects of education. The day-long event saw seminars by keynote speakers from the field of education, workshops led by teachers on how they use Pupil Premium funding, as well as exhibitions held by some of the creative businesses and education charities that are currently working in the region’s schools.

Words by: Jennifer Chamberlain

The overall aim of the day was to look at the wider impact of the school experience for disadvantaged children, moving beyond the data and celebrating a holistic approach to using Pupil Premium funding.

‘We were keen this year to fully involve Liverpool pupils at our conference and “keep the day real”, says Angela Allen, senior school improvement officer at School Improvement Liverpool. “Using our team of Liverpool School Improvement Partners (LSIPs) we were also able to identify innovative strategies being used in schools across the North West to raise the attainment of Pupil Premium pupils.

“We are hugely grateful to these schools who gave up their time to run workshops for colleagues. We were delighted to be able to invite local businesses and charities to exhibit and run workshop sessions during the day. LSIPs have had first-hand experience of the impact these colleagues have had on the outcomes for pupil premium children and look forward to discovering more this academic year,” adds Angela.

Succeeding with disadvantaged children

In order to tackle educational inequality, teachers must fully understand the complex reasons why a child is disadvantaged in the first place, and how this directly impacts their school life. According to the leading education charity, Teach First, the link between income and attainment is stronger in the UK than almost anywhere else in the world. In terms of exam results, 33% of pupils on Free School Meals achieve 5A*-C at GCSE compared to 60.5% of other students. Whilst it’s well known that a child’s socio-economic background impacts their attainment, a perhaps lesser known fact is that the educational success of a child’s mother is the single biggest factor affecting how they do at school. What is clear, however, is that poverty is intergenerational and more should be done to ensure that children from poorer backgrounds are given the same life chances as those from more privileged families.

As the first keynote speaker at the conference, Sue Hackman spoke passionately about educational disadvantage and the best ways to tackle the issue. Having spent seven years as Chief Adviser on School Standards at the Department for Education, and a former teacher herself, Hackman has an in-depth knowledge of the educational landscape and in particular how to succeed with disadvantaged children.

For her, there are four key things that disadvantaged children must learn, and have access to, in order to succeed: linguistic competence, social literacy, cultural capital and economic knowhow.

In pinpointing specific areas, Hackman points to some of the ways schools can utilise Pupil Premium most effectively. Furthermore, these key areas cover a range of different skills and add up to an altogether holistic approach; Not only does a child need to learn vital linguistic, social and economic skills but they also need cultural experiences, such as going to the theatre or learning a musical instrument – opportunities that privileged children are given on a regular basis. As well as providing valuable experiences for pupils, accessing culture in this way provides a simple, straightforward way for schools to use Pupil Premium funding to benefit children who may never otherwise have such opportunities.

How schools spend Pupil Premium

The amount a school receives annually through Pupil Premium funding largely depends on the location and demographics of its pupils. In theory, this means that schools in more disadvantaged areas receive the most funding. In the 2016-2017 financial year, primary schools will receive £1320 for every child registered as eligible for Free Schools Meals, with secondary schools receiving £935 for each pupil.

Furthermore, schools receive additional funding for Looked After Children. For schools with a large percentage of children registered as eligible for FSM, this additional funding allows them to invest in specialist staff, better facilities and opportunities for the pupils who need it most.

One school which receives a large amount of Pupil Premium is St Patrick’s Catholic Primary School in Toxteth.

As an inner city, multicultural school in a deprived neighbourhood, 58% of pupils receive Free School Meals and attract Pupil Premium funding for the school. Schools operating in disadvantaged communities are often faced with a myriad of social issues on a daily basis. Unemployment, drugs and gangs and vulnerable parenting are just some of the challenges faced by St Patrick’s and other schools in the most deprived areas of Liverpool, and indeed throughout the country, and engagement with these issues is essential in order to support a child’s learning.

As winner of the Local Award in the KS2 category at Pupil Premium Awards since 2011, St Patrick’s is a leading example for other schools of how to effectively use the funding to ensure maximum impact.

Raising attendance has been fundamental to raising attainment for the most vulnerable children in St Patrick’s care, and as such the school has used Pupil Premium funding to foster an outreach approach.

Investing in a minibus to collect and bring children to school as well as hiring a Family Support Worker to address specific problems within the community have both had a significant impact on pupils. Staff at St Patrick’s understand that they must support a child in all areas of their life, and the school regularly subsidises uniforms, books and stationery as well as sending out food parcels for families that are struggling the most.

Attendance is now 96% as the school continues to support families to engage in their child’s education. Although improvements have been made, it is a complex and difficult process and the school admits that such improvements risk being short lived: when extra support is withdrawn, old habits begin again.

Furthermore, some of the most vulnerable and hard to reach families refuse to be involved, and there can be a lack of uptake in the support offered. It is worth noting that although schools notify families that they may be eligible for FSM, it is the parent’s’ responsibility to fill in a form to prove their eligibility; it is not automatic and this means that the most vulnerable children can miss out.

“What do middle class children have that our children do not?” asks Mrs Lewis, Headteacher of St Patrick’s. Left by her predecessor at the school, this very question is behind every decision that the school makes about how to provide opportunities for their pupils that they may otherwise never have. Some of these opportunities include: 1:1 tuition for those most struggling, music tuition for all children from Year 3 onwards as well as educational trips abroad. Recently, the school took 20 children from Year 4 to Spain and, out of those 20, the school was able to use Pupil Premium to cover the costs for 5 children.

Lister Infants, a community maintained school in the Tuebrook area of Liverpool, adopts a similar approach when spending Pupil Premium funding. The school, which educates children from from 2-7 years, puts emphasis on pupils mastering life skills as early as possible in their lives.

Out of the school’s 212 pupils, 18% are eligible for Pupil Premium Funding – although it has been as much as 42% in recent years. Other schools share similar stories of a drop in the percentage of children considered eligible for additional funding, due to changes in in the universal benefit system. Many teachers are concerned that children who would’ve benefited from Pupil Premium in the past, are now missing out on much-needed support.

Deputy headteacher of Lister Infants, Kirsty Hamilton, begins the workshop with a quote from the founder of the Sutton Trust, Sir Peter Lampl: “Giving disadvantaged young people the best start in life is a vital national endeavour that will pay dividends in providing a more skilled workforce and a stronger social fabric for the future.” As an Infants school, Lister believes in developing essential life skills as early as possible, and focuses on the specific areas of thinking, debate, relationships and positivity.

Perhaps an unexpected subject area for children so young, Philosophy takes a central role in the curriculum at Lister Infants through investment in the Talk for Life programme. Children in Key Stage 1 are encouraged to think independently and take part in debates. As well as developing pupils’ thinking skills, teaching Philosophy has had an impact on positivity and helped with conflict resolution throughout the school and in particular, at playtime, as children learn to take turns and accept different opinions. Investing in a learning mentor, and training all TA’s in Theraplay, has also helped to nurture the children’s basic social skills as well as provide targeted support for emotional needs.

Pupil Premium spending at Lister Infants seem to strike the balance between improving academic attainment and providing unique opportunities for disadvantaged pupils. When statistics show that pupils who do not reach expected level in English and maths by age 11 rarely catch up by the time they reach 16, it’s important that these subjects are prioritised at primary level. With 1:1 Number Count Intervention and Early Years Language support, Lister Infants ensures that children are supported in the key areas of English and maths whilst still providing holistic opportunities.

Opening the Pupil Premium conference, the school’s Deaf Active choir impressively sang and signed their way through three songs, including their unique version of The Beatles ‘Love Me Do’. Supported by Deaf Active, a charity set up to facilitate opportunities for deaf and hearing young people, pupils at Lister Infants have been able to develop a valuable skill as well as gaining confidence and self-esteem through performing to audiences.

Measuring impact

Whilst there are countless ways to use Pupil Premium funding, and each school will have very different aims and outcomes, it’s imperative that schools effectively measure its impact. Monitoring whether a Pupil Premium strategy is working is a difficult and time-consuming task, but it is essential to ensure that the funding is being put to the best use. Ultimately, Pupil Premium will only have an impact if spent wisely.

It appears that many schools are following a similar, albeit simple, process when measuring the impact of Pupil Premium spending. Tracking of entry and exit data and reporting to staff and governors at regular review meetings seem to be the most popular methods.

But how do schools go about choosing their approaches in the first place?

Could more accurate measurement be done to ensure they are spending the funding wisely?

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is an independent, grant-making charity dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement for children aged 3 to 16. Founded in 2011 and funded by the Department for Education, the EEF believes in putting evidence into action and works within schools to test which approaches actually work to improve teaching and learning. The EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, an accessible, user-friendly summary of international educational research evidence, is one of the EEF’s most valuable resources. Based on reviews of research conducted by independent academic teams, the toolkit is practice focused and provides comparisons between approaches, as well as information on implementation.

‘We look for innovative, evidence-based, scalable programmes and approaches and then make grants to fund people to deliver those in schools across England,’ explains Peter Henderson, research officer for the EEF. ‘We carry out a rigorous evaluation process, including randomised control trials, and then publish all the research online where teachers can access it for free.’

Closing the gap

When children start school, there is a 19-month gap between the most and least advantaged pupils and, in reality, this gap only widens as they get older. With such alarming statistics, it’s clear that Pupil Premium funding is needed to close the attainment gap and to ensure that disadvantaged are given the best chance of catching up with their more privileged peers. It’s looking positive, and results have improved across the board for all children. However, when the gap is closing at a rate of just 0.5% per year, it’s clear that a lot more needs to be done, and much quicker, to ensure that disadvantaged children are given the best start in life.

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