Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Sunday Times Festival of Education at Wellington College. Tinie Tempah was there. So was Al Murray, Piers Morgan and a host of other A-list speakers. When I say they were ‘there’, I wouldn’t want you to get the impression that they were actually there in person sitting at the back of my session. That would be daft. I do like to think that they might have thought for a split second that the pupil premium panel that I was a part of might have been worth a listen. But they didn’t. The nearest I actually got to Mr Tempah was that I retweeted him. And as for Messrs Morgan and Murray, well at least I was on the same page as them in the alphabetical list of speakers in the festival programme. Not many people can say that.
So seeing as they missed it, and most probably you did too, this is broadly what I said.
Chaired magnificently by Anna Trethewey (@annatreth), and joined by @MaryMyatt and @Khawar_Malik, each of us on the panel were afforded 5-10 minutes each to extol to the masses who turned up our thoughts and views on ‘how to spend the pupil premium wisely’. This proved to be very difficult because 5-10 minutes is clearly not enough time. However, I think I made a fair fist of it.
1. Build a shelf. Despite the fact that almost 80 per cent of those listening were not aware of the EEF toolkit, I still made the point that you should choose carefully. There is a danger that schools adopt a ‘supermarket sweep’ approach to filling their trolley with strategies and interventions in the hope that if they pick the ones at the top of the list, the gap will close. It’s really not as simple as plucking them off the shelf if, as a school, you do not have a shelf yourself on which to sit them. By shelf, I mean an organisational culture or set of core values and beliefs that underpin and support all that you do. Spend time building your own solid shelf and getting the climate and ethos right before you start raiding the store.
2. Back to basics. Better still, whilst building the shelf, invest time and effort in going back to basics and being clear about what good quality first wave teaching looks like in your school. Agree on a set of ‘non-negotiables’ around effective learning and ensure that these are applied consistently across the whole school. Once you have these, you can then begin to use strategies that are consistent with your pedagogical approach.
3. Don’t weigh the pig. As a general rule of thumb, if I come across something that works in a school and it’s difficult to measure, it’s probably a good thing to do. Be cautious if the strategy that you are pursuing requires constant and continual measurement. Don’t fall into the trap of seeing pupil premium funded activities as only being of value if they improve test results. Of course this is important, but simply viewing the toolkit as a means of plugging gaps in knowledge is shortsighted. Avoid interventions at all costs. Instead, consider using pupil premium funding to provide opportunities to teach children how to become better learners by allowing them to develop their soft skills such as resilience, independence, collaboration or critical thinking (shelf, notwithstanding). With this in mind, perhaps one of our highest impact projects is our pupil premium funded social enterprise that teaches children how to be social entrepreneurs in a purposeful context. It also prepares them for the world of work. You can read more about this here and here
4. Greatest good for the greatest number. Choose strategies that have the most impact across all subjects and areas of learning. One of the earliest approaches we took was to spend funding on technology, ensuring that it impacted across all areas of learning. Each child now has a device and 24/7 broadband connectivity at home. This allows us to flip the classroom which has shown to have a significant impact on closing the gap. Have a look at @mathsflip, an EEF funded project we took part in for more information. A utilitarian approach will also be well-served by adopting strategies that impact on meta-cognition, feedback and peer-assisted learning (PAL). We use our funding to employ a team of DIRTy teaching assistants to ensure the gap remains closed as part of Directed Improvement Review Time. We also employ staff to run PALs sessions where a more able child teaches a concept they have mastered to a group of pupils that require additional support. It is also entirely appropriate to spend the funding on partnerships with external organisations who develop the whole child. Examples of those that we currently work with include Real Ideas Organisation, Creative Alliance, University of the First Age, and of course the Whole Education Network (we are a partner school).
5. The killer question. Finally, ask yourself this question: If pupil premium funding was stopped tomorrow, which (if any) of your strategies would you continue to fund yourself? If the answer is ‘none of them’ then you are doing the wrong things. The strategies that you use to close the achievement gap need to be sufficiently valued such that you would be doing them anyway because they are fundamentally at the heart of all that you believe to be high quality teaching and learning. If this is so, then you are indeed spending your pupil premium wisely.