Further Thoughts on the Pupil Premium

With apologies to readers who have no particular interest in the intricacies of England’s so-called Pupil Premium, we have a few more thoughts on this issue. We’ve been inspired to follow up on yesterday’s 3D Eye post on this subject by coming across two other bloggers who also feel strongly about the pupil premium:

http://johntomsett.wordpress.com/2012/09/22/this-much-i-know-about-the-pupil-premium

http://mrjkwilson.com/2012/09/23/this-much-i-know-about-the-pupil-premium/

It was positive thinking by the LibDems to try to protect the budgets of the most hard-pressed schools, i.e. those with the biggest numbers of disadvantaged pupils, by offering the ‘pupil premium’. But it’s an appalling thing when the coalition government and Ofsted insist that the so-called ‘additional’ funding can only be used to ‘raise attainment’, i.e. drive up scores in SATs (why do we still have them at Key Stage 2 anyway?) and GCSEs (why do we still have national exams at the age of 16?).

It’s not as though this kind of activity necessarily improves pupils’ ability to function intellectually and to think critically, let alone think creatively. It may well impede it. Young people need these life skills and work skills of critical and creative thinking more than they need A-C grades, which is why the CBI and others (including Estelle Morris in the Guardian this week) have been calling for the abolition of 16+ exams.

The pupil premium should legitimately be spent on additional pupil mentors, and on supporting the development of all the intelligences – personal, social, emotional, spiritual, etc. (Of course, it isn’t just pupil premium money that should be spent on these . The development of these intelligences should be an integral part of the curriculum, enhanced with pupil premium money for those young people who may need more help.)

These so-called ‘soft skills’ (a ridiculous term for our core intelligences) are what enable us to survive and thrive in the real world. As is the capacity for creativity and imagination. Unfortunately these can’t be easily measured and tested. Therefore they’re considered unimportant by the government and by Ofsted, and spending the pupil premium on raising levels of all the intelligences as well as the capacity for creativity and imagination is considered illegitimate.

Every teacher knows that academic improvement rarely takes place without improvement in motivation and without improvement in social and emotional functioning. These tend to be long-term issues for which there are rarely short-term fixes – funding or no funding. A primary school that uses the pupil premium to improve attitude and behaviour, and maybe instil a love of learning for its own sake, will be doing secondary teachers a favour. Those that use it to pay for additional cramming for SATs in after-school and Saturday ‘booster classes’ will not, since those attitudinal and behavioural issues are highly likely to continue into teen-age unless they are properly addressed at an early age. The same is true of secondary schools vis a vis future employers, and indeed society as a whole. The CBI and Estelle Morris recognise this, and Sir Ken Robinson has been saying it for decades, going back to the publication of ‘All Our Futures’, and even before that.

Sadly the dinosaurs that currently run education in this country can only imagine that the way ‘out of the ghetto’ (as they see it! – e.g. go beyond the minimum wage or unemployment) is via exam success and university. They have as much understanding of ‘social mobility’ and how to achieve prosperity and life skills for every individual as they have of teaching and learning.

As for the implementation of proper formative assessment, pupil involvement in setting learning targets, and personalised learning – don’t even go there. That would cost far too much and would require a complete re-think of teachers’ conditions of service, which is exactly what Finland has done and is why Finland continues to be consistently around the top of the OECD’s PISA rankings, which are based on tests of how well students can apply knowledge and solve problems – and not simply regurgitate facts and information. The countries now challenging Finland at the top of the international tables are those, like Singapore, that have given up on cramming and hothousing in order to follow the Finnish model. The chances of us doing something similar would seem be around zero, regardless of Mr Gove’s professed admiration for Finnish schools (well he would say that, wouldn’t he?), and regardless of what the CBI and others might be saying.

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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 https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/ or see our website at www.3diassociates.com.
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