The government should rename the pupil premium the “social mobility premium” to encourage schools to spend the cash on teacher development and retention, a cross-party group of politicians has said.
The all-party parliamentary group on social mobility, which includes former education secretaries Justine Greening and Baroness Morris, warned that “substantial amounts” of pupil premium money is being spent on intervention strategies which may not be effective, such as employing teaching assistants.
Instead, the money should be “better targeted” to help close the attainment gap between poorer pupils and their peers, the group said, in a report published today. The call is based on the rationale that teacher quality is the biggest factor in disadvantaged pupils falling behind.
The group ran an inquiry into regional differences in attainment between 2017 and last year, and found the country is still 40 years away from closing the gap.
It follows a move by the government to prematurely close its new fund for the brightest poor pupils, with ministers saying they would focus on the early years instead.
Disadvantaged pupils, who attract £1,320 of additional pupil premium funding at primary level and £935 at secondary, lag behind the average national key stage 4 attainment by about half a grade in each subject.
The APPG pointed to a growing body of evidence which suggests the “single most important factor” in raising a disadvantaged pupil’s attainment is the “quality of the teacher providing the instruction”. Better-off pupils are also more likely to be taught by higher-quality teachers, worsening the gap.
Politicians think naming the pupil premium would “make it more explicit” that schools can use the money for broader teacher recruitment and retention strategies, rather than programmes for individual pupils.
Labour MP Justin Madders, who chairs the group, said the move would “send a strong signal that there is government determination, backed by resources” to improve social mobility.
Schools are already free to spend the pupil premium as they wish, with the government’s website merely stating it is designed to close the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.
But in 2015 the National Audit Office found fewer than five per cent of schools had used the pupil premium to support teacher recruitment.
Last month, the education secretary Damian Hinds revealed a recruitment and retention strategy, hot on the heels of alarming data which shows teacher training application rates fell by five per cent in 2018.
The strategy, the APPG said, should be geographically targeted and help schools offer “more generous financial incentives” to encourage teachers to work in the areas with the worst attainment gaps, such as the north east, south east and south west.
Focusing the premium on social mobility would also “incentivise school collaboration” because schools could use it to collectively improve “cold spot areas” in their region. Schools should also have to prove they collaborate with other schools in their area to be judged ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, said the report.
The document also recommended that schools ensure they evaluate any programmes to raise attainment, and said the government should commit to fully implementing its careers strategy.
The DfE was approached for comment.