The pupil premium journey: lessons learned during my two years as National PP Champion

As my two-year stint as National Pupil Premium Champion draws to a close, it feels like the right time to take stock. The champion role, as set out by David Laws, has given me the opportunity to act as an independent conduit between the government and schools. On the one hand, I have fed back to the Department for Education the messages that school leaders have given me about issues they are facing in making an impact with the pupil premium (PP); on the other hand, I have spoken to nearly 15,000 school leaders at 150 conferences and meetings about how best to develop a strategy that fits their schools’ specific needs.

What lessons have I learned during this time? What progress has been made by schools with the PP? Should the government change the PP policy? What are the main challenges for the future? Can the gap be substantially narrowed – at age 11, at age 16, and in the life chances of young people?

What lessons have I learned during this time?

Schools that are most successful in their use of the PP adopt a range of strategies, well targeted at the needs of their pupils. I have noted 12 areas of focus for PP policy and practice in these schools:
– Excellent collection, analysis and use of data relating to individual pupils and groups.
– Unerring focus on the quality of teaching.
– Identification of the main barriers to learning for PP-eligible pupils.
– Frequent monitoring of the progress of every PP-eligible pupil.
– When a pupil’s progress slows, interventions are put in place rapidly.
– Every effort is made to engage parents and carers in the education and progress of their child.
– If poor attendance is an issue, this is addressed as a priority.
– Evidence (especially the Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit) is used to decide on which strategies are likely to be most effective in overcoming the barriers to learning.
– Staff (teachers and support staff) are trained in depth on the chosen strategies.
– 100 per cent buy-in from all staff to the importance of the PP agenda is essential, with all staff conveying positive and aspirational messages to PP-eligible pupils. Performance management is used to reinforce the importance of PP effectiveness.
– Effectiveness of teaching assistants is evaluated and, if necessary, increased through training and improved deployment.
– Governors are trained on PP.

Apart from noting these common characteristics of PP practice in successful schools, I have resisted the temptation to tell schools how to spend the PP, but instead have set out a process for deciding what policies best suit each school’s individual circumstances. This process is summarised in my blog: “Ten point plan on spending the pupil premium successfully” at
The ten steps in this plan are:
Step 1. Set an ambition for what you want your school to achieve with PP funding.
Step 2. The process of decision-making on PP spending starts with an analysis of the barriers to learning for PP pupils.
Step 3. Decide on the desired outcomes of your PP spending.
Step 4. Against each desired outcome, identify success criteria.
Step 5. Evaluate the effectiveness and impact of your current PP strategies and change them if necessary.
Step 6. Research the evidence of what works best.
Step 7. Decide on the optimum range of strategies to be adopted.
Step 8. Staff training in depth.
Step 9. Monitor the progress of PP-eligible pupils frequently.
Step 10. Put an audit trail on the school website for PP spending.

What progress has been made by schools with pupil premium?

Attainment of PP-eligible young people is rising and the gap between their attainment and that of more advantaged pupils is closing. This is happening more quickly at age 11 than at 16, where many other policy factors come into play. The 2015 National Audit Office report on pupil premium (1) made a fair assessment of progress, noting the autonomy that schools have to spend PP and the increasing use of evidence to inform their PP strategies. (The NAO report also noted the £2.4 billion per annum that is allocated by local authorities as deprivation funding, but without the direct accountability that exists for the £2.5 billion PP funding.)

Schools have become more analytical in their use of PP funding, moving away from spending largely on additional teaching assistants and subsidising school trips that Ofsted noted in its 2012 report on PP (2) and addressing the individual needs of pupils in order to increase their readiness to learn.

Schools have also increasingly used the finding of the 2011 Sutton Trust report on teacher impact being proportionately greater for disadvantaged children to spend PP funding on raising the quality of teaching. (3) “Individual need and classroom rigour” is the excellent mantra for one school that is highly successful in raising the attainment of disadvantaged children.

As National Pupil Premium Champion, I have emphasised the need to put special effort into two categories of PP-eligible pupils – looked-after children and bright disadvantaged young people.

The statistics for looked-after children are a scar on our society. 12% of looked-after children achieved 5+ GCSEs at A*-CEM, compared with 53% of others. 33% of care leavers become NEET, compared with 13% of all young people. 6% of care leavers go to university – which is less than the percentage of care leavers who go to prison – compared with 40% of others.

Too many bright PP-eligible children have low expectations thrust upon them and fall behind their less bright advantaged peers. 15% of highly able pupils who score in the top 10% nationally at age 11 fail to achieve in the top 25% at GCSE. Boys, and particularly PP-eligible boys, are most likely to be in this missing talent group. (4)

Should the government change the PP policy?

My short answer to that is No. Pupil premium is a Heineken policy, reaching the disadvantaged children – particularly in small towns and rural areas – that previous policies, such as Excellence in Cities, did not reach.

The government does not tell schools how to spend the money, but holds them to account for the impact they make with it on the progress and attainment of disadvantaged young people. That is a rare example in education of intelligent accountability.

The 2015 Conservative manifesto said that it would continue PP funding, but whether ministers will want to put a Tory gloss on a coalition policy remains to be seen. The new early years PP will – and should – be a priority area.

What are the main challenges for the future?

Headteachers are rightly worried at the effect of other government policies, such as the bedroom tax and the benefits cap, increasing child poverty and making it tougher for schools to close the gap. Cuts in other local support services for disadvantaged young people have made the task of schools more difficult too. It is as if the Department for Education, through the PP, is trying to increase social mobility, while some other government departments are reducing it.

The increasingly difficult school funding situation represents a further major challenge and the temptation for schools to use pupil premium funding to plug other budget gaps should be resisted if disadvantaged children are to receive the additional support that they need.

Can the gap be substantially narrowed – at age 11, at age 16, and in the life chances of young people?

Schools have shown that, with the extra resources of the PP and a strong determination to improve the life chances of all disadvantaged young people, the gap can be narrowed.

Schools need to evaluate regularly the impact of their PP spending and may benefit from an external review. Both for internal and external reviews, school leaders have found the Teaching Schools Guide useful. (5)

The evidence of what works is there for all to see, but it needs to be disseminated. There will be no National Pupil Premium Champion to do this, as I have tried to do since 2013. The Education Endowment Foundation will continue to fly the pupil premium flag, but Regional School Commissioners, local authorities, multi-academy trusts and teaching school alliances will need to have pupil premium at or near the top of their priorities if individual schools are to be adequately supported in their work with disadvantaged young people.

The social, moral and educational case for giving additional support to children born less fortunate than others remains as strong as ever. Every school needs a Pupil Premium Champion.

John Dunford was National Pupil Premium Champion from September 2013 to August 2015

(1) National Audit Office,, June 2015
(2) Ofsted, The most useful Ofsted report on pupil premium appeared in February 2013 and is at See also the July 2014 report at
(3) Sutton Trust,
(4) Sutton Trust, June 2015,
(5) Teaching Schools Council,

2 thoughts on “The pupil premium journey: lessons learned during my two years as National PP Champion

  1. A rather naive observation by me but shouldn’t a Pupil Premium Champion be something every school should have? Based on the consequences that a misdirected policy/spend going un-monitored for even a short length of time could possibly ruin a students potential. We should make it mandatory.

    Those best suited and those with the relevant skills and expertise in the local social and economical area etc. Headteacher’s PP policies could invariably be influenced by factors to which they shouldn’t be.

    Every wrong decision has noticeable consequences in the overall effectiveness of assisting disadvantaged individuals.

  2. Pingback: Getting the priorities right: Pupil Premium and Closing the gap – SCHOOLS NorthEast Blog

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