Last week, the TES reported that it was aware of ministerial discussions on making changes to Pupil Premium spending. Pupil Premium is additional government funding given to state funded schools to help raise the achievement of ‘disadvantaged’ (which is determined according to ‘eligibility’ for free school meals and having been a looked after child for more than 6 months).
The article reports on a proposal that would see Pupil Premium allocations cut from ‘bright’, but disadvantaged pupils, and reallocated to those disadvantaged pupils with low attainment. The rationale is that the ‘bright’ children are less in need of additional support, presumably because they are ‘bright’.
Firstly, the use of the adjective ‘bright’ is problematic. Antonyms of bright include ‘dim’, dull’, or ‘lacklustre’, or, perhaps in the context of educational attainment, ‘thick’. None of these are explicitly expressed, of course, but certainly some opposite of bright is implied.
In defence, the Fair Education Alliance Report Card of 2014 in which this idea is recommended does not use the term ‘bright’. So, maybe we could blame the journalists in this case? Possibly, but there is hint in this document that attainment is somehow inherent, and as such those pupils who are achieving in line with their non Pupil Premium peers are in less need of additional support.
The Fair Education Alliance proposes the following recommendation for policy:
Target pupil premium by attainment as well as disadvantage measures. This could be achieved through halving current funding per pupil for FSM Ever 6. Half of this funding could then be re-allocated to pupils eligible for FSM Ever 6 who have low prior attainment. This would give double-weighting to those low income pupils most in need of intervention without raising overall pupil premium spend. The change of funding model would increase school accountability for ‘catching up’ pupils.
As Pupil Premium is paid to schools for the purpose of raising the attainment levels of the most deprived pupils and the rest (ignoring for the moment the assumptions around homogeneity of the rest) and thus narrowing the attainment gap, this may appear to make sense. However, one of the problems is that this assumes that where a pupil, who attracts the Pupil Premium, has a previous level of high attainment will maintain a high level of attainment throughout their school career. As if being bright is an innate state that will be maintained with or without intervention and support.
The evidence does not support this. New transition matrices, discussed here by Tim Dracup paint a more complex picture, suggesting that prior high attainment isn’t always maintained between KS2 and GCSE, with widening gaps between the most and least deprived. This questions the rationale of re-allocating Pupil Premium Funding from pupils with previous levels of high attainment. Elsewhere, the knowledge that attainment gaps widen throughout a young person’s school career is supported. For example, the recent publication of Too many children left behind which examines the education trajectories of children from the USA, UK, Australia and Canada adds further evidence about the widening gaps in attainment, even where pupils of different social backgrounds have started school with similar levels of attainment.
Perhaps further attention could be given to the last line of the above extract from the Fair Education Alliance Report Card of 2014:
The change of funding model would increase school accountability for ‘catching up’ pupils
The implication is that, because Pupil Premium is not currently weighted by prior attainment, schools are taking credit for the attainment of those previously high-attaining pupils, when they have no right to, because they are ‘bright’. A new formula would mean they would have to focus on those pupils with lower levels of prior attainment. Of course, if we know attainment gaps get wider as children travel through school, this makes little sense, other than as a means of further holding schools to account for failing to mitigate against social inequality.
While the effectiveness of additional funding such as the Pupil Premium in narrowing the gap may be questioned overall, cutting this from ‘high attaining’ pupils isn’t going to help.
View the lecture on Too Many Children Left Behind held at the LSE: