Giving every young person the best start in life whatever their background and wherever they come from is a mission that unites teachers. The pupil premium is arguably the one government policy introduced in recent decades that is most aligned to this commitment. Since 2010, it has helped sharpen the focus on improving outcomes for the most disadvantaged pupils. By recognising the stubborn link between family income and educational outcomes, it has allowed schools to target additional resources at those pupils who need it most.
As we turn our efforts to education recovery, the role of the pupil premium has never been more significant. We know that students who are eligible for this funding are more likely to be facing bigger challenges than their classmates. The pupil premium – and the additional resources being paid to schools through the recovery premium – is a tool with the potential to make an important difference in mitigating the long-term impact of the pandemic on disadvantaged pupils’ learning. There is a clear need to make sure that every pound is spent in ways that will make the biggest difference.
One of the strengths of the pupil premium is that it focuses the conversation not only on the amount of money spent on the poorest young people, but on how those funds are spent, too. We’re well equipped to do this. Teachers in England are now some of the most evidence-informed in the world, with schools consistently using evidence when making pupil premium decisions. For instance, in 2020, 69 per cent of school leaders said they made use of the EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit when making choices about how best to allocate funds to support their disadvantaged pupils.
This is good news. Evidence has the power to improve outcomes for children, particularly when it comes to pupil premium spending. It can guide teachers towards (or away from) practices and programmes that have been proven to be effective in other classrooms.
A new reporting template from the Department for Education has made the link between evidence and pupil premium spending even more explicit by asking schools to make reference to the evidence they have considered when developing their pupil premium strategy.
Ensuring that decisions are informed by a “range of evidence” is a useful maxim for schools, but also potentially a risk. How do we make sure that evidence empowers school leaders and teachers to make effective decisions, rather than becoming a “tick-box” reporting requirement?
To support this, the EEF has published an updated guide for schools on their pupil premium spending. It builds on our tiered approach to school improvement, which encourages schools to prioritise teaching quality, alongside targeted academic support, and wider strategies (such as focusing on pupil attendance).
It also offers a new four-step cycle to support school leaders to develop, implement and monitor an evidence-informed approach to their pupil premium strategy. In response to the DfE’s new requirement for backing up spending decisions with evidence, it also includes new support for schools to engage critically with evidence from a range of sources.
We want to encourage school leaders to engage effectively with evidence by challenging claims made by external providers. This means questioning whether approaches have been evaluated, and critically assessing whether the evaluation is rigorous, or proves a similar match to their school context.
Perhaps most importantly, our new guide is optimistic. Education recovery is one of the toughest challenges our school system has faced. But used with care and commitment – and in conjunction with a critical engagement with evidence – the pupil premium is one of the best bets we have for addressing this and giving every young person the start in life they deserve.