Cutting the Pupil Premium for ‘bright’ pupils

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:

Pupils not claiming free school meals

If you scoured the articles from some of Britain’s popular newspapers for their views on welfare , you could be forgiven for believing that welfare reform was justified, for no other reason than to curb the excesses of dependency, and to end an unfair benefits culture.

Without digressing into how such a discourse is employed as a hegemonic device, it is worth considering that the reality of the benefits culture is more complex.

Late last month, the Department for Education published a Research Report: Pupils not claiming free school meals.  The key findings from the research reveal that while 21% of children aged between 4-15 are entitled to free school meals (FSM), 18% of this age group are claiming this entitlement.  In other words, 14% of children who are entitled to FSM are not claiming FSM.  This is approximately 200,000 pupils.

Entitlement to FSM is based on receipt of specific benefits, however, families in receipt of these benefits have to register their entitlement through their child’s school or Local Authority.  The procedure for this registration varies between authorities and between schools.

Around a quarter of children entitled but not receiving FSM live in the South East.  In the North East there is a much lower non claimant rate, with Darlington, Hartlepool,  Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, and Stockton in the Tees Valley appearing to have 100% of claimants registering.  This may be due to authority wide efforts to ensure maximum registration. For example, my post  from last year looked at Middlesbrough Council’s efforts to urge parents to claim their entitlement. However, the reasons for not claiming FSM are complex, with analysis in this DFE report suggesting that children living in a less deprived area or attending a school with a low rate of FSM are less likely to claim their entitlement to FSM. In neighbouring, relatively affluent North Yorkshire  for example, there is a  high level of under claiming for FSM.  More research is needed to further understand the reasons behind these patterns.

This issue of under-claiming is not just significant for the individual children, but impacts on the funding a school can receive in the form of the pupil premium. The pupil premium is additional funding given to schools as a way of addressing educational inequalities between children from families who are socio-economically deprived and those from more affluent families.    Social scientists continue to discuss the usefulness of FSM as a proxy for deprivation given that receipt is not automatic.   McMahon and Marsh (1999) writing for CPAG discussed lack of take-up, more recently Hobbs and Vignoles (2010), Thrupp and Lupton (2011) have all explored the issue of under-claiming.  Gorard (2012) does suggest that the distinction between “eligibility and take-up may have been eroded” (p. 1015).

The report, published by the DFE  indicates that in many places eligibility of FSM still does not mean claiming of FSM.  As a result, some schools won’t get the extra funding they are entitled too, the socio-economic barriers that some children face will be obscured by the relative affluence of those around them.  And, the tabloid press won’t launch a moral panic about the level of benefit under-claiming in this country.

Pupils not claiming free school meals is written Samaira Iniesta-Martinez and Helen Evans and published as a Department for Education Research Report.

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Who is getting the Pupil Premium?

The office of David Lammy MP this week released analysis of the pupil premium – funding given to schools and targeted at supporting the most disadvantaged children. The analysis suggests that, rather than the additional funding going to the most deprived areas of the country, more affluent areas are seeing the greatest benefit.

Analysis has revealed that Buckinghamshire and Surrey, with 11% of under 16 year olds living in poverty will see a doubling of the pupil premium.  In contrast, in Tower Hamlets where over half of children under the age of 16 are living in poverty the premium will increase by  60%.  At the other end of the country, Middlesbrough is also among the ‘biggest losers’, seeing an increase in the pupil premium of 54% while 35% of it’s under 16 year olds live in poverty.

Data can be downloaded from the Guardian’s Datablog page:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/mar/16/pupil-premium-child-poverty-data

Sarah Teather: Pupil Premium to Double

The pupil premium is money targeted at children from poor backgrounds, and is symbolic of the Government’s apparent commitment to social mobility.

The announcement at the Liberal Democrat Conference must have given delegates something to smile about, but is it likely to make a significant difference?

In their election manifesto, the Liberal Democrats promised a pupil premium of £2.5 billion, but, once in coalition had to settle for £625 million.  Over a year later and the pupil premium is set to rise to £1.25 billion in 2012/13 and then to £2.5 billion in 2014/15.  On the face of it, it sounds like they have finally got their way.  Crucially, the Liberal Democrat manifesto stated that they would do the following:

“Increase the funding of the most disadvantaged pupils, around one million children. We will invest £2.5 billion in this ‘Pupil Premium’ to boost education opportunities for every child. This is additional money going into the schools budget, and headteachers will be free to spend it in the best interests of children.” (2010: 34) [1]

Notice that they pledged to increase funding, and that the pupil premium would be additional money.

With some schools facing cuts to their budgets, the pupil premium may not turn out to be additional funding.

Continue reading “Sarah Teather: Pupil Premium to Double”

More rushing to claim Free School Meals

Today, the Guardian runs a story about Sacred Heart High School in Hammersmith. Its headteacher, Dr Christine Carpenter has warned parents that the school’s budget will be cut from next year, and, consequently is urging parents to apply for Free School Meals in order that the school may receive the Pupil Premium.  This is estimated to make up some, but not all the cuts in the school’s budget

I can only assume the Guardian does not read my blog, and therefore did not see my previous post.  In that case it was Middlesbrough LEA which was urging parents to apply for this entitlement, not individual schools, indicating, perhaps the continued importance of LEAs, from whose control the current Government is keen to set schools free.   Further, it suggests that the Infant Hercules was taking the lead on the push to drive up claiming of Free School Meals, its press release on the matter coming a whole week before Guardian story on the significance of Free School Meals.

Nevertheless, what both stories indicate is that ensuring the maximum take-up for Free School Meals has never been so important for schools’ budgets.  Maximising the take-up of this entitlement ensures the school receives its share of the Pupil Premium.

What these stories also indicate is the level  of under claiming of benefits.  According to today’s Guardian article the Sacred Heart High School has 6% of pupils claiming Free School Meals with an estimate that as many as 35% could be entitled. In my previous post I commented on the estimates that perhaps only two-thirds of pupils in Middlesbrough entitled to receive Free School Meals actually do.

Schools may be desperately doing whatever they can to maximise the number of children claiming Free School Meals in time for the deadline later this month.  If a child becomes entitled after this date, or if a child moves into a school after this date (a major issue in some schools) then the school misses out on the funding for that child. But, under-claiming of Free School Meals, as of other benefits is nothing new, as the Guardian article reports, Tim Nichols from the Child Poverty Action Group says:

“…it does make you ask why…they weren’t so interested in the past”

Of course, now the schools have a budget incentive to ensure that all who are entitled, claim.

A problem may be that, while the Pupil Premium is available, schools’ budgets are being cut, so how effective is this ‘additional’ money going to be in improving the educational opportunities of children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds?

Additionally, there is a limited amount set aside (£2.5 billion) for the Pupil Premium. The efforts of LEAs and schools in maximising take-up of entitlement might not be appreciated by a government keen to reduce public spending.

Missing out on Free School Meals?

Children are eligible for Free School Meals if their parents receive certain benefits.  Eligibility for Free School Meals has long been used as a proxy indicator of socio-economic status; if a child receives Free School Meals, they are likely to be socio-economically deprived in comparison to children who do not.  As  sociologists of education will tell you, socio-economic status (some of us even dare use the word ‘class’) shapes educational attainment.  A lifetime ago, employed by an LEA, I would benchmark schools Key Stage results according to ‘FSM eligibility’, so that we could claim to be comparing the results of schools with a similar pupil intake.

The FSM statistics are not without controversy. To what extent can this statistic reliably measure socio-economic status?[1]

One of the problems with the ‘FSM eligibility’ statistics is that, despite the title, the figure measures claimants of Free School Meals.  There is a big difference between eligibility and the claiming of benefits entitled because of that eligibility.  Benefits go left unclaimed.

The significance of all this?   The Pupil Premium, which is additional money which the Government has pledged to benefit the education of “deprived children”. It will be allocated to schools’ budgets according to the number of children in receipt of FSM. Middlesbrough, in the North East of England has some of the most deprived wards in the country, and as such you would expect their to be a significant number of children eligible for Free School Meals.  Middlesbrough Council is concerned that as many as 3000 children who are eligible are not receiving this benefit. It amounts to additional £1.1 million in Pupil Premium funding for Middlesbrough schools.   They have urged eligible parents to complete a form in order to claim their entitlement.  That is the way Free School Meals works, a parent has to apply for it, it is not automatic. In Middlesbrough, there are, at present approximately  6000 children already in receipt of Free School Meals.  So, in other words, around one-third of parents have not claimed this benefit.   Who knows what the real eligibility figure is if this level of non claiming is repeated in other socio-economically deprived areas.  The Government has set aside £2.5 billion a year for the Pupil Premium.  Will it be enough?

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A look back at Education 2010 – Part 2

This year will see the amount of public money spent on education, fall.  However, we are not supposed to worry about the impact of this.  A number of reassurances are used by the current Government in the process of framing public spending.  For example, the phrase “we’re all in this together” is supposed to make us feel that these cuts are fair, that everyone will experience cuts to the same extent, that no one group is being singled out. It is a case of all citizens sharing the burden, bankers and bin men alike.  This reassurance is however inconsistent with other reassurances from the Government over the protection of ‘front line services’.  Firstly, cuts cannot be fair and equally spread if some services are protected while others are not.  Secondly, the definition of ‘front line services’ is not clear.  The term ‘front line services’ may appear common sensical, referring to those essential services that no civilised society, or no individual can live without.  In reality, ‘front line services’ differ between individuals,  so some members of the population may see the services they rely on protected, while others will see them cut.

When it comes to education, a 0.1% increase in schools’ budgets were suggested in the October spending review.  By December, pantomime season had descended; it was a case of ‘oh no it isn’t’.  The 0.1% rise is not a real rise, given inflation. It also means that the pupil premium isn’t actually extra money.  According to the  DfE Some LEAs and schools will see their budgets fall.

Other cuts were announced.  £162 million of funding to the School Sports Partnership was to be cut.  By the 20th December Gove could be heard crying ‘Oh no its not’ as the DfE issued a news release to the effect that funding will now continue until the end of summer term 2011.

On 17th December Booktrust, an independent charity which runs a book gifting scheme giving books to children and families to encourage reading were told that their  £13 million Government funding would cease from 1 April 2011.   No sooner had the charity released the contents of the letter, but Government, in gesture of seasonal goodwill decided to review the decision.  Clearly the ghost of Christmas future has not visited, as it is only a partial ‘u turn’ as the Government has declared it is committed to  bookgifting and will continue to work with Booktrust.

Could it be argued that school sports, books and reading are not ‘front line services’?

The pupil premium

The pupil premium is additional money given to schools for each child from a poor background.  It was a feature of the Lib Dem’s election pledge, and represents a symbol that the parties care about tackling educational inequality.

A recent entry on Conservative Home claims the pupil premium was, in fact a conservative idea, dating from “as early as 2005”.  This must come as a surprise to the Institute for Fiscal Studies who observed that the education system (before the election) “already weights funding towards deprived pupils”.

The pupil premium sounds good.  The Liberal Democrat 2010 election manifesto pledged £2.5 billion to increase funding to the most disadvantged children, in the form of a pupil premium.  Its manifesto estimated there to be around 1 million disadvantaged children.   Other sources estimate the figure to be four times higher, however, the Liberal Democrats based their estimate on the number of children receving free school meals, in itself problematic means of measuring the number of children in poverty.  So, according to the Liberal Democrats’ figures, this works out at around £2500 for each pupil.  Furthermore, the money would go straight into schools’ budgets  (the Labour Government’s additional funding went to LEAs) and, the manifesto claimed, could be used for any number of things, including a reducation in class sizes, attracting the best teachers, or improving discipline.  All of these ideas are popularist, but are actually quite vague in terms of how they might  help break the link between deprivation and poor educational outcomes.

Now in coalition with the Conservatives, the Liberal  Democrats may have to be satisfied with an even more vague pledge of a pupil premium, in that we don’t know how much it is going to be, or where the money is coming from.

While there is talk of tackling inequality, with the supposed evidence in front of us in the form  of a pupil premium, educational inequality is still being promoted in the form of, in private education,  selection by wealth, and, in the state sector selection on ability.  Further, the money to pay for any premium might not be additional funding.  As Conor Ryan’s article in the Independent points out, for the premium to make any difference, it needs to be additional money.  If school budgets are going to be cut, then a pupil premium isn’t really a premium at all.

The claim that the pupil premium is designed to help the most disadvantaged, helping to break to link between deprivation (however it is chosen to be measured) and poor educational outcomes is pretty thin.  The link between social background and educational attainment is a strong and persistent one.  Therefore, improving the lives of the most disadvantaged families and children would be a more effective way of tackling educational inequalities.  Unfortunately there is little evidence of policies in these areas.  In fact, if anything, things are going to get worse.  This week, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) issued a press release  in which it condemns the recent austerity budget for freezing child benefit, and effectively halting progress towards ending child poverty. It also points out that the increase in VAT will hit the poorest hardest.  Incidentally CPAG claims that there are nearly 4 million children in the UK living in poverty. The Liberal Democrats £2.5 billion would have been stretched even further.