Free article: Pupil premium

Published: Thursday, 20 February 2014

The pupil premium remains the government’s flagship method of providing additional resources to disadvantaged pupils. In this article we give advice to the SENCo about how it might be used.

This article was first published in Issue 2 of SEN Leader Magazine.


  • What research says about effective ways of using the pupil premium.
  • How it is being used in practice.
  • Providing evidence for the public and Ofsted.

Hopes are high for the pupil premium (PP). The government has identified it as the ‘best way to address the current underlying inequalities between children eligible for free school meals (FSM) and their peers’. Allocated to schools since April 2011, it may not be ring-fenced but there is high accountability for the way in which the money is being spent.

Since 2011 the amount distributed through PP has steadily risen. For 2013-14 it stood at £900 per pupil for:

  • any child who has been registered for free school meals at any point in the last six years (Ever 6 FSM)
  • any child who has been looked after continuously for more than six months.

There was also a sum of £300 allocated to the children of service personnel. Of course, not all pupils eligible for PP have special educational needs and neither are pupils with SEN necessarily eligible for this funding. However, a SENCo should pay very close attention to those that are, and should be involved in how the money is used.

Ways of using the premium – the research

The Ofsted report The pupil premium: how schools are using the pupil premium funding to raise achievement for disadvantaged pupils highlighted some concerns about the ways in which schools were allocating PP money. In some cases funding was being used to support existing initiatives rather than focusing on the target group and new ways of improving performance.

The teaching and learning toolkit (Sutton Trust-EEF) publicised research carried out at Durham University into the main strategies that schools might use, and their effectiveness. The toolkit suggested that most evidence could be found to support the use of:

  • effective feedback
  • teaching approaches which make thinking about learning more explicit, e.g. teaching pupils to evaluate and discuss their own learning
  • peer tutoring and peer-assisted learning.

These strategies were identified as low cost but having high to very high impact. Other strategies that schools have been using, such as teaching assistants and smaller classes, are placed lower down the list of effectiveness. Teaching assistants were identified as having very low/no impact for high cost, and reducing class size as low impact for very high cost. The report acknowledged, however, that teaching assistants can have other benefits such as improving pupils’ perceptions and attitudes.

One-to-one tutoring received moderate applause as the report identified that there was a potential gain for students of up to five months (moderate impact), but that the cost was very high:

“Programmes which used experienced teachers who are given training are more effective than those using volunteers or classroom assistants. Evidence also suggests that tutoring should be additional or supplemental to normal instruction, rather than replace it.”

Ability grouping was shown to have very low or even negative impact. This was largely due to the negative effect on the attitudes of middle- and lower-performing learners. However, flexible grouping for particular tasks is more successful provided that effective teachers are assigned to low-attaining groups. Attention to learning styles and individualised instruction were shown to have very little impact, although their low cost might still recommend them in some contexts.

Ways of using the premium – the practice

The majority of schools have chosen to focus on catch-up groups and support for pupils entitled to PP who are falling behind in the basic skills. A popular and evidence-backed approach is using a qualified part-time teacher to support pupils both in class and through catch-up sessions out of class. This support is used flexibly, sometimes with individuals and at other times with small groups where the needs are similar. The key factor seems to be that the member of staff is well qualified. It is vital that schools deploy their best staff to help those who find learning hardest.

Some schools have identified behavioural needs as a major barrier for a number of pupils; they are using some of their PP money to help fund nurture groups and other specialist behavioural support. Out-of-school clubs designed to raise the self-esteem of targeted pupils, and breakfast clubs and other forms of pastoral support have also been funded through PP.

Whichever method you choose, it is vital that you collect data to demonstrate the effectiveness of its use. Ultimately the data that inspectors will be most interested in are your results. They will expect to see that pupils known to be eligible for free school meals are achieving, and ideally that the attainment gap between them and other pupils in the school is closing.


Although the government has been strongly against ring-fencing, it is also insistent that the money is put to the use it was intended. It is doing this through:

  • tables which show the performance of disadvantaged pupils compared with their peers
  • the new Ofsted framework, under which inspectors focus on the attainment of pupil groups
  • the online publication of information about how the money is spent.

The online information is aimed at ensuring that parents are aware of how the school is allocating the money; this is now a statutory requirement. Schools must publish:

  • how they intend to spend the PP for the current year
  • how they spent the money for the previous year
  • what the impact on pupils’ attainment has been.

In the subsidiary guidance provided for inspectors (January 2013), inspectors are advised to gather evidence about any differences made to the learning and progress of pupils who are eligible. It is beneficial to make sure that the school’s self-evaluation summary includes analysis of the progress and attainment of your PP pupils.

This point applies no matter how much PP your school receives. A particular concern of inspectors is that the gap is proving to be particularly stubborn in those schools with relatively few eligible pupils; their practice might seem disproportionately under scrutiny.

The guidance on strategies to support pupils eligible for PP is just as relevant for other pupils with learning needs. The PP can be a valuable resource, and The teaching and learning toolkit is an essential read for SENCos.

Key points: The Teaching and Learning Toolkit

The Teaching and Learning Toolkit (Professor Steve Higgins et al, Durham University, July 2012) focuses on the costs and educational benefits associated with using different approaches to support teaching and learning.

It is intended that the document might be used to assist schools in selecting the most effective and best value for money strategies when spending the pupil premium. The document is available at

It is important to acknowledge that, as each school is different, what works best in one context might not be the best choice for another. Individual schools need to match the evidence with their own contexts. It is important that schools themselves keep track of the effectiveness of the strategies they have chosen. The approaches referred to are summarised in terms of:

  • impact
  • costs
  • applicability
  • strength of evidence.

There are 21 different approaches outlines altogether.

Those identified as having the most potential gain of between 4 to 9 months are:

  • feedback
  • meta-cognition
  • peer tutoring
  • early years intervention
  • one-to-one
  • homework
  • ICT phonics.

Those identified as having the most potential gain of between 1 to 3 months are:

  • parental involvement
  • sports participation
  • reducing class sizes
  • after-school programmes
  • individualised instruction
  • learning styles
  • arts participation.

Those having least potential gain are:

  • performance pay
  • teaching assistants
  • ability grouping
  • block scheduling
  • school uniform.

Further information


In order to download the following items in the Toolkit subscribe to Premium Plus:

  • Form - Identify pupils with SEN eligible for the pupil premium
  • Worked example - Table to show methods used and level of effectiveness
  • Form - Table to show methods used and level of effectiveness
  • Form - Bringing your evidence together

This article was first published in the April 2013 edition of SEN Leader magazine.