Spending the Pupil Premium Plus effectively

Written by: Darren Martindale | Published:
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The Pupil Premium Plus grant for looked after and other vulnerable pupils is £2,300 per-student, but many schools are still uncertain as to how it can be best utilised. Virtual school headteacher Darren Martindale advises

Inclusion is an increasingly hot topic. With permanent exclusions rising, evidence shows that vulnerable students, such as looked after children (LAC) and those with SEND or in receipt of free school meals, are significantly more likely to be excluded.

For example, research last year from the charity Adoption UK found that adopted pupils could be up to 20 times more likely to be excluded. There are plenty of similar statistics for other groups of vulnerable children.

Teachers repeatedly tell me that they are struggling to support a number of pupils with increasingly complex needs, and that more sophisticated approaches are required to support those vulnerable students.

The Pupil Premium Plus (PPP) is funding allocated to local authorities to help raise the attainment of LAC, as well as pupils who have left care through adoption or a Special Guardianship Order (SGO). The LAC portion of the grant is managed by the virtual school headteacher, who usually allocates the majority to schools, working in conjunction with heads and designated teachers to ensure that it is utilised in the best way. The adopted/SGO grant, however, is allocated directly to schools, based on school census data.

PPP is a valuable resource, which has increased to £2,300 per-pupil for 2018/19. Yet even though the grant was launched in 2011, many schools are still uncertain, as to how it can be best utilised, what kind of support it shouldn’t be used for, and how to evidence its impact.

As a virtual school head, I discuss these questions with schools every day. One point that teachers often make is that the strategies which work best with LAC can equally be applied to other vulnerable/underachieving students. So, how you allocate your PPP can certainly inform how you can utilise your Ever 6 funding, and will promote inclusive pedagogical approaches more generally.

The main difference with PPP is that, particularly for LAC, it should not go into a general pot for inclusion, SEND or narrowing an achievement gap. It should be utilised to support each child’s individualised learning targets (as contained in their Personal Education Plan).

What’s also clear is that it should be driven by priority and need, rather than “we’ve got this money, now how do we spend it”. It also definitely shouldn’t be used to fund things like school uniform, lunches or transport to school.

And while nobody would deny the importance of quality first teaching – and PPP can support that – its specificity is likely to drive this particular resource in the direction of targeted interventions. Effective learning interventions are underpinned by four principles.

1, Bespoke provision

There is a need for bespoke provision, tailored to the pupil’s individual needs and strengths, with very regular reviews of progress. Try to fit the provision to the pupil, not the other way around.

2, Intelligent analysis

Intelligent analysis of data (both “hard” and “soft”) to identify attainment gaps and barriers to achievement, with the selection of strategies based on evidence of what is most likely to work in meeting that individual need, is vital.

This point is worth careful consideration – it is relatively straightforward to identify gaps in attainment and academic progress. However, an analysis of the barriers facing your most vulnerable pupils could require more searching reflection. On a pupil level, the personal barriers that looked-after and other disadvantaged children face are manifold and well-documented so, of course, attendance or engagement may need to be addressed before attainment can really become the focus. But what about barriers that relate to your school or local context, and which affect certain pupils in particular? Do you struggle with parent/carer engagement? Is the senior leadership team fully engaged with plans for Pupil Premium spending?

What about staff attitudes? There is a lot of evidence that teacher expectation is a fundamental factor in pupil progress; do all staff hold high aspirations for vulnerable or challenging students?

As outlined below, PPP can be used to purchase training for staff on specific skills and approaches. However, it should also be remembered that self-reflection leads to self-improvement. Within the nexus of professional practice, schools should continually learn from their own experiences of teaching and learning as well as from external research.

3, Joined up approaches

A joined-up approach works best for all. Where external agencies are involved, collaboration is key to helping children feel more secure and connected, and avoiding gaps or duplication. This also refers to the need for a cohesive approach within educational settings, or a “whole-school ethos”. Interventions should never be bolted on, or approached as isolated or unconnected to the rest of the provision. Inclusion (and this article) is really about a network of connected ideas, which highlights the potential of flexibility. Schools should be able to adapt, switch and combine these ideas according to individual and changing needs.

4, Leadership

The need for “clear, responsive leadership” is described by the Department for Education (DfE) in their guidance Supporting the Attainment of Disadvantaged Pupils (2015). This leadership promotes (again) high aspirations, the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and an understanding of improvement as a journey, without an end, that we all pursue together.

Other tenets of good practice

Other important axioms, which should underpin practice and can themselves become key strategies, include:

  • The importance of early intervention (rather than just focusing on end-of-key stage).
  • The value of capturing the pupil’s voice.
  • The need to engage parents or carers.
  • Making the best use of teaching assistants – i.e. to support an identified priority and give the skills and tools they need to make a difference.

The most powerful approaches are likely to be ones which schools develop themselves, based on those core principles of inclusion. However, it can be helpful to offer practical suggestions.

As such, here is an outline of several approaches that I have found to be particularly effective with LAC and other vulnerable pupils. It should be noted that, although I’m thinking of PPP in particular, the majority of these strategies are likely to apply to other disadvantaged pupils and so can inform the use of Pupil Premium more generally.

Small group or 1:1 tuition

This is one of the more standard uses of the funding and can be very helpful for disadvantaged children. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) Teaching & Learning Toolkit identified tuition as one of the more effective (and cost-effective) interventions.

There is also research evidence which shows that LAC at key stage 2 make better progress than their peers after accessing 1:1 tuition (DfE, 2011). The key is that it should be a consistent, medium-to-long-term intervention, and again, communication between school, parents/carers and external tutors is key to success.

Metacognitive strategies

Metacognition involves “thinking about thinking” and “learning to learn”. There can be real benefits in helping disadvantaged students to develop their thinking skills and problem-solving strategies. Learning to regulate your own thinking also helps with regulating your emotions. This can be informal (for instance, the teacher talks though problems – basically thinking aloud – to model their own thought processes), or it can be more formalised methods. This is good route toward promoting independent and self-directed learning.

As an example, my team have found the “Turnabout” programme quite powerful in engaging under-achieving pupils at key stage 2 (and no, I’m not on commission). This 1:1 intervention is based on “structured, tactile, non-linguistic mental exercises” which develop connections between long-term and working memory.

Supporting transition

Transitional times, such as moving between schools, key stages or even between lessons, can be particularly difficult for some children to handle so they need to be given extra preparation for this. Extra staff time may be needed to go through the timetable with them at the start of each day, for example, or explain and reiterate timings, or give support when rooms or staff change. Use diaries, visual aids and other reminders as required. Preparation for major transitions, such as a change of school, should ideally be started several months before the event. Identify a safe place, a breakout area, for the child to go when things get too tough, and a key, trusted adult to help them to develop coping skills.

Investing in CPD

While Pupil Premium is not allocated to support SEN as such, it could help to build staff capacity around a range of additional needs if that is what is required to support a pupil. Speech, language and communication difficulties (which recent research has shown to be very prevalent among young people in the criminal justice system), autism, attachment difficulties, EAL – these are among the areas where pedagogical approaches might need to be more specialised.

Building on an awareness of attachment and the effects of early trauma, Wolverhampton Virtual School has invested in training for teachers in emotion coaching, an approach developed by US psychologist John Gottman (1997) which enables young people to manage their own behaviour by helping them to understand the different emotions they experience, why they occur, and how to handle them.

This approach aims to develop intrinsic factors, self-awareness and internal regulation, rather than external motivators such as rewards or sanctions. As such, it is likely to be more effective in the long-term. Emotionally intelligent approaches such as emotion coaching and restorative practice are not only effective de-escalation techniques but also support pupils’ preparedness for learning. Which brings us to...

Building pupil resilience

Resilience is the ability to cope with adversity and bounce back. It’s also about dealing with stress in a socially engaged way (i.e. taking time out to calm down, rather than sending your desk crashing). Children who have not had the necessary nurture and stability from the earliest stages of life may lack that emotional resilience.

Therefore, they might not be able to respond to stress or challenge in a way that is positive or (as we would see it) appropriate – hence the flying desk. They may need help to understand and control their emotions, and school staff are in a privileged position to be able to support. After all, in some cases school may be the most consistent, positive factor in a child’s life.

Children can develop that ability to self-regulate through social learning or relational strategies – behaviour modelling, reflective skills, buddying, circle time or Circle of Friends – and emotionally literate interventions such as emotion coaching, SEAL, restorative practice or THRIVE.

Other approaches

There are plenty of other strategies – for example, peer tutoring or mentoring – and again the EEF toolkit is a useful starting point to explore pros and cons.

Think also about the classroom and wider school environment, however. Pupils with additional needs can be especially sensitive to noise, light, colour (too much? Not enough?), and any physical surroundings that they may feel to be threatening. Attachment-related difficulties, for example, can affect the way that a child processes information. Research has suggested that children spend 75 per cent of their day in listening activities (Dahlquist, 1998) so if the classroom is noisy or has bad acoustics, attention will soon wander. Some funding could be used (or pooled) to purchase PA or other equipment that reduces these barriers.

Consider also how disadvantaged pupils are given:

  • Priority for enrichment activities.
  • Access to all areas of the curriculum.
  • Access to music and the arts.
  • Encouragement and support to aspire toward higher education.
  • Access to careers advice and guidance and quality work experience.
  • Support to participate in all areas of school life, including extra-curricular.

Measuring the impact of Pupil Premium

This can be a challenge, and accountability for Pupil Premium spend is critical. There are evaluation tools available online (including, again, on the EEF website). However, self-evaluation is again a key element. Pupil progress meetings (including Personal Education Plan reviews for looked-after children), data-tracking, RAG-rating, pupil surveys, focused observations, etc. can all be used to capture data at regular intervals.

Look for opportunities for peer-led reviews and to share good practice with other settings. Speak to your educational psychology service, virtual school head and other partners or consider commissioning a Pupil Premium Review – see the DfE website for more information.

As I’ve outlined, the road to improved attainment isn’t always a straightforward one. However, there are different kinds of progress, and diverse ways to measure it. Attitudinal surveys and tools to measure wider progress can be the key to supporting vulnerable learners. PASS (Pupil’s Attitudes to Self & School), Strengths & Difficulties Questionnaires (SDQs – a triangulated response between school, carer and social worker), Boxall Profile, and Resilience Scales are some of the methods to track engagement and resilience in your pupils. Plenty of schools have devised their own.

Sustained success, as in most areas of life, is all about balance. A truly inclusive pedagogy, as supported by PPP funding, needs to be nuanced. For example:

  • Consistent – but flexible and responsive.
  • Taking care of core subjects – but also wider progress and the whole child.
  • Responding to individual needs and differences, while avoiding stigma or marginalisation.
  • Making effective use of data – to inform a response which is personalised and not mechanistic.
  • Creative and innovative – but with tangible, measurable outcomes.

By focusing PPP to support a flexible, bespoke curriculum, underpinned by the right core components, schools really can improve the life chances of the most vulnerable children and young people.

  • Darren Martindale is the virtual school head for looked-after children at City of Wolverhampton Council.

More Pupil Premium Advice

Darren Martindale will be leading a best practice workshop entitled Supporting the most vulnerable Pupil Premium and Pupil Premium Plus children at SecEd’s 10th National Pupil Premium Conference on September 28 in Birmingham. For details, see www.pupilpremiumconference.com

Further information


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