The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Rob Jones

Evidencing impact of the pupil premium

How do you evidence your pupil premium funding? Deputy head, Rob Jones, reports back from our recent conference, ‘The Pupil Premium: Evidence Impact & Drive Progress’, and shares some insights from the day.

The art of the batsman is to ‘mind the gap’ between wicket and bat. The art of the educator is to ensure there is no gap in performance between pupil premium students and their peers. What better location to investigate this issue than at the Oval cricket ground, the location of Optimus Education’s conference: ‘The Pupil Premium: Evidence Impact & Drive Progress’. I spent the day in three tailored presentations where different aspects of this art were dissected and discussed.

Matthew Parris: headteacher at Minster School

Matthew Parris is headteacher at Minster school in Nottinghamshire. Previously, he was head at Rushey Mead secondary school in Leicester. The two schools are very, very contrasting. The main thrust of his presentation, and the success of the school, originated from ‘knowing and growing the individual.’ The knowing is the data about performance, but also the knowledge of the experience of the individual; ‘the softer bits’ are vitally important. Matthew led us through the journey at Rushey Mead School:

  • The ACE project that developed into the ACE team.
  • The hard and soft data used to ‘know the students’ and their families.
  • The approaches to staffing, funding and measuring.
  • The result? Sky high value added in terms of progress and a gap that sits at only 2% on Key stage 4 measures.

Alun Rees: head of the Virtual College for Vulnerable Children

Alun Rees informed us that it is not ‘rocket science.’ It’s about knowing whether students are making progress, and intervening if they are not. ‘The whole process is important,’ he said. Alun's confident and energetic presentation started by supporting elements of the morning's keynote presentations, whilst questioning some others. This underlined one of the points clearly made, that one size does not fit all. We have to be clear about what the need is and what will work in our context, which brings us back nicely to needing to know the individual and understanding their wider achievement. The power of the Education Endowment Fund's toolkit was discussed as a tool to highlight effective strategies.

Understanding your strategy

The risk of adopting a strategy without really understanding the context was clearly made. The trick is to engage and move forward the students who do not make progress, even with the strategies in place. ‘For these students’ Alun says, ‘we need to dig deeper’. We need to ask ‘Why?’ Alun then explored a whole raft of questions to try to help the audience answer those ‘why?’ questions for the individual child. Alun reminded us that we are good at answering these questions for SEND students. What we need to do is to apply this enquiry to the PP students. So, start with the individual. Knowing them and their needs will inform you what strategies should work. Until we have highlighted these nuances we will find it difficult to track progress. What is their journey towards the ‘hard data’ target of a C grade or level 4? Without knowing the individual you will only know if they ‘have got there or not’. You will not know how they have developed as a learner.

Life without levels

Alun briefly touched on ‘life without levels’, and how impacts can be tracked at KS3. Audience participation suggested that levels are still being used, but maybe with different names! How to test success was reviewed, from randomly controlled trials and control groups through to validated local practice – maybe shared through your local teaching alliance. Alun suggests staying away from single item Twitter feeds and blogs. ‘Make it evidence based if you want to make it happen.’

Shakespeare Schools Festival

The final session for me was presented by representatives of the Shakespeare Schools Festival. They passionately presented the argument that a ‘soft’ strategy can have impact, and you can evidence it. They presented, with the help of a video podcast, how the scheme supported reading and literacy skills, developed teams out of individuals, and gave real aspiration to students from chronically disadvantaged backgrounds. Hamid, a key stage 4 student, presented Hamlet's soliloquy, a shining example of how ‘something soft’ can produce something incredibly hard – a diamond performance. Hamid presented in a Q&A session afterwards with real confidence. I would certainly ask him to speak to a visiting Ofsted inspector. I had a day that provided some clear answers for my setting, left me with some questions I need to answer, and helped me smile when alighting the tube listening to the tannoy telling me to ‘Mind the Gap’!

By Rob Jones – deputy head at Priestnall School

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