Using the Pupil Premium

So what is the pupil premium, and how should it be used?

“The schools minister David Laws has admitted that the use of funds allocated under the government’s £1.25bn flagship “pupil premium” policy is “not good enough” after the education watchdog found that more needed to be done to make sure the money was used to help poor children.”

Hmmmm. “Poor children”, eh? What else can you tell us?

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said there was real concern that funds were being used simply to “plug the gap” in school budgets as a survey of 262 schools found that more than half said the premium was making “little or no difference” to the way they were being managed and operated.

“This is a large chunk of public money … and that money should be directed to the needs of those poor children because the gap in education outcomes between the poorest and richest is still far too wide,” he said.

Asked if the funds were being used by schools to fill budget holes in straitened times, he said: “I think so and that’s an issue we need to worry about. If the money is being spent on repairing the roof and tarmacking the playground and not on helping poor children to achieve as well as their more prosperous peers then that’s a real worry for us.”

Maybe Sir Michael should consider that even “poor children” prefer to go to schools where there are no holes in the roof and where playgrounds are safe. Maybe “wealthy children” are also entitled to attend schools where there are no leaks in the roof and no dangerous holes in the playground.

Surely we all know [yes, including Sir Michael] that spending some money on necessary roof repairs when a problem is first noticed actually saves a lot of money that will need to be spent on replacing rotting roof timbers and ceilings if the problem isn’t addressed immediately?

So the problem Sir Michael should really be addressing is – why are we going down the route we followed back in the dark days of the ’80s when public spending was cut severely to fit a Thatcherite agenda of low taxes and low spending on public services? We all know where that road took us – to a situation where thousands of schools nationwide were in a terrible state of repair with many of them practically unfit for purpose. Thanks to increased spending on education between 1997 and 2010 we now have hundreds of brilliant new schools and many others that have been fully refurbished with improved premises and facilities.

Our guess here is that if you ask parents whether they would be willing to pay a little more in taxes whilst spending a little less on bombs and nuclear weapons, the majority would be in favour – especially if it meant that their children would benefit from better schools and better facilities for learning.

However . . . back to the Pupil Premium itself.

The head of Ofsted tells us that “the gap in education outcomes between the poorest and richest is still far too wide”. How does he know that? All he really knows is that the gap in attainment in timed tests and examinations is far too wide.

Rightly enough he’s concerned about this, and so are we at 3Di. But he frankly has no clue about other sorts of “educational outcomes” – partly because there are currently no ways of objectively assessing those outcomes, and partly because he’s not overly interested in them anyway.

For all he knows the “poor children” might be making far better progress in terms of several key outcomes than their wealthier peers. Able to think creatively and imaginatively? Levels of social intelligence and spiritual intelligence? We know from the recent behaviour of the government’s Chief Whip, ‘Thrasher’ Mitchell, that those who go to elite schools and universities and do well in examinations can be complete dunces when it comes to personal values & interpersonal attitudes and skills – and therefore capable of landing themselves in very hot water due to their lack of emotional “intelligence”, their attitude to ‘plebs’, etc.

So what proportion of the Pupil Premium is currently being spent on supporting ‘poor’ children to do well in these other fundamental areas of achievement – the sorts of learning that will equip them with skills and positive attitudes for life and for work, even if they continue to struggle academically? These are areas of learning that often come under the heading of Personal, Social and Emotional learning and spiritual wellbeing. Our guess is that Sir Michael hasn’t a clue how well those other intelligences are being supported by the pupil premium, and he won’t be interested in finding out any time soon. In the same article David Laws said this:

“We want many more schools to use the pupil premium more effectively. Half of them are not yet using it in the most effective way and that is precisely why we’ve asked Ofsted to report into the use of the pupil premium so we can make sure we hold schools to account and we spread best practice.”

The most effective way to do what, exactly?


The pupil premium was introduced in April last year. This academic year, schools were allocated £1.25bn for children from low-income families who were eligible for free school meals, looked after children and those from families with parents in the armed forces.

Chris Keates, the general secretary of the teaching union NASUWT, said: “This Ofsted report on the impact of the pupil premium says nothing that the NASUWT did not predict at the time the pupil premium was introduced. “The pupil premium was never, despite claims to the contrary by ministers, ‘new’ money for schools.

“The fact that it was introduced at a time of savage cuts to the education budget and it was left to the discretion of schools on how to spend it has resulted in the premium being simply swallowed up in schools’ budgets.

“As the cuts are set to continue, any benefit there might have been as a result of the introduction of the pupil premium will be eroded away. “If the pupil premium is to have any widespread positive impact on the children and young people for which it was introduced, it will need to be additional to school budgets and ringfenced, with close scrutiny of how it is spent.”

Let’s allow Sir Michael to have the last word on this:

“We have got to really make sure that heads know what they are doing and are more concerned with good educational practice than doing something that’s more akin to social engineering.”

Yet again Sir Michael leaves us with the impression that headteachers probably don’t know what they’re doing.

We’ll return to the subjects of “good educational practice” and so-called “social engineering” in future posts.


The good news this week is that even people as Blairite and as middle of the road as Estelle Morris have begun to realise some fundamental things about the proper aims of education:

Gove’s exam proposal is a botched job, inadequate for 21st-century education

Well into the autumn term assessment is still in the news . . . and the very future of GCSEs is open for debate. [This] is a missed opportunity for really radical reform.

Assessment at the age of 16 is a relic from when most children left school at that age. [Gove’s] proposals are rooted in the past and show little understanding of the society that surrounds children growing up at the start of the 21st century. That world has changed since O-levels.

Of course, the facts and knowledge that the curriculum has traditionally passed down remain important – but they are no longer sufficient. In a world transformed by science and technology, a new set of skills, attitudes and knowledge have also become important. Creativity and communication, team work and flexibility; learning through doing and excellence in practical skills, let alone fluency in technology itself, will be what divides successful nations from also-rans.

The government’s proposals don’t prohibit these things, but neither do they indicate they are valued. Experience shows that what is assessed is what schools teach. It will be so again.

See also these letters:

And a true story about a leaking roof:

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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