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Schools: Pupil Premium

Volume 740: debated on Wednesday 24 October 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how the pupil premium will be monitored to ensure that it benefits individual children.

My Lords, we want to help schools to narrow attainment gaps. One way of doing that is through the pupil premium, which represents additional funding rising to £900 per pupil next year for children on free school meals. From this September, schools have to publish details of how they use their premium. My department publishes in the school performances tables information about disadvantaged pupils’ achievement. Ofsted has a closer focus on how the premium is used and on how it benefits pupils.

I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sure he is aware that a recent Ofsted report states that very few teacher leaders think that the pupil premium has changed the way in which they support disadvantaged pupils. I understand from him that Ofsted will in future be asked to comment specifically on the use of the pupil premium. What effective measures will be chosen to assess those reports?

The principle that we are adopting generally in introducing the pupil premium is to leave discretion on how it is spent as much as possible to individual heads because they will know the circumstances of the children for whom they are responsible. However, the noble Baroness is right that those approaches that are working well—which we will discover through the publication online of details of how schools have done, through inspections by Ofsted and through spreading good practice through the education endowment fund—should be spread as widely as possible, with lessons being learnt from them.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that, according to an Ofsted survey of, I think, 300 schools, 50% were using the money effectively and were seeing real changes. How can we ensure that the other 50% are using the money, which we have heard is going up next year, in such an effective way?

My answer makes a similar point. It is important that we learn lessons from the ones that are spending it effectively. We will do that through the work of the Education Endowment Foundation, which was set up specifically to spread good practice and help other schools learn the most effective ways of tackling disadvantage. It is early days, but as more information is published, the fact that from this September schools are having to account for how they have spent their money and what they have spent it on, and demonstrate a linkage between that money and results, will help us achieve the goal of my noble friend Lord Storey.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that almost all Roma children, no matter how poor they are, do not qualify for the pupil premium because their parents may not have been here long enough. What can the Government do to remedy this manifest inequality?

I understand how dear a subject that is to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. The reason that we have gone for a single and simple measure of eligibility, based around free school meal status, is that we think it is important to keep the pupil premium as simple as possible so that we can learn the lessons and not make it too complex. The best proxy that we felt that we could have was economic disadvantage, because we know the difference there is between how the poorest children achieve and how better-off children achieve. That is why we went for that simple measure.

My Lords, given that 50% of the schools are perhaps not using the pupil premium effectively, what role does the Minister expect school governors to play in ensuring that the money does in fact go to the right pupils?

I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, agrees with me on the importance of the role of governors generally in concentrating on the performance of the school and the achievement of pupils. One of the key indicators that there will be, through Ofsted and the performance tables, is how schools are doing, particularly for children on free school meals. Governors can play an extremely important part in holding the head, and the rest of the school, to account for delivering that.

Further to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, will my noble friend confirm that, in future, Ofsted inspections will pay specific regard to the position of GRT—Gypsy, Roma and Traveller—pupils, bearing in mind that they are the most deprived group of any section of the community in terms of educational achievement and attainment?

My Lords, as I think I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, the focus of the Ofsted inspection is particularly on children suffering from economic disadvantage—those on free school meals—and those are the criteria and judgments that Ofsted will be using.

My Lords, three tries for a Welshman. Many parents, including those with autistic children, are told that schools do not have funding to support their child’s special educational needs. I do not think they are helped by the fact that the Government have failed to publish guidance to schools on the use of the pupil premium. Can the noble Lord tell us whether the reforms of the SEN system will ensure that the pupil premium is now better used to help children with special needs?

My Lords, generally the reform to the special educational needs system through the Bill that the Government will be bringing forward next year will help tackle the needs of all children with special needs more effectively than the current system. Not all those children will be suffering from economic disadvantage, so, in addition, the pupil premium will, I hope, help to tackle that issue. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, that we need to make sure that we spread good practice. The Government have a role through things like the Education Endowment Foundation, which is an independent organisation that can spread good practice. We certainly need to make sure that best practice on how money is spent on children with special educational needs is spread through the system.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is a lively business among private companies in helping kids who have left school with no English or Maths to get up to Level 2 standard and that they charge rather less than a pupil premium for doing it? Does he think that schools might make use of that resource as well as employers?

One of the important principles of the pupil premium is that schools can decide how to spend that money. If they are sensible they will go to a range of providers to help to narrow those gaps.

My Lords, it is welcome news that in the future schools will be required to report on how they spend the pupil premium but many pupils have already lost out because, according to Ofsted, the money that schools have had has been misspent. Will the Government go further now and ring-fence the pupil premium and give schools the proper guidance that my noble friend Lord Touhig referred to? That would ensure that the money really is focused on individual disadvantaged children with schools purchasing interventions that we know work.