The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged pupils. This sobering reality reinforces the importance of the school leadership decisions that attend pupil premium strategy.
At the start of September, the DfE published their latest guidance and templates for schools to use when reviewing their strategy around pupil premium spending. It comes with significant new requirements for school leaders:
For 2021 to 2022, you [school leaders] are required to:
- use your recovery premium alongside your pupil premium funding and report on your use of them as a single sum in your strategy statement
- use our template to publish your strategy statement – see condition 8 of the conditions of grant
- publish your strategy statement by 31 December 2021 – this enables you to take the needs of your new intake into account
- demonstrate how your spending decisions are informed by a range of evidence – see condition 7 of the conditions of grant.
Ensuring that decisions are informed by a ‘range of evidence’ is a useful maxim for schools, but also, potentially, a risk. How do we ensure that evidence use actually supports school leaders and teachers to make effective decisions, rather than becoming a ‘tick box’ reporting requirement?
For a start, it is important to emphasise that teachers in England are some of the most evidence-informed in the world, so schools using evidence when making pupil premium spending decisions is nothing new. In 2020, 69% of school leaders surveyed, said they made use of the Teaching and Learning Toolkit when making choices about how best to allocate funds to support their disadvantaged pupils.
This is great news – evidence has the power to improve outcomes for children – particularly when it comes to pupil premium spending. It can guide teachers towards (or away from!) practices and programmes that have been trialled in other classrooms.
The EEF has evaluated over 100 programmes that schools might use their pupil premium spending on. The contrast between effective and ineffective approaches is striking. For example, Nuffield Early Language Intervention and URLEY are both programmes schools might consider purchasing for teaching early language – but the research shows that NELI had a positive impact of 3 months, on average, whilst URLEY actually had a negative impact on attainment when compared with usual provision.
But the broader research evidence findings still require careful judgement from school Leaders, so that useful information about what may have worked in the past, in other school contexts, can be applied intelligently to their specific school context.
How then do we ensure that evidence use doesn’t just become another box to tick when completing the PP template?
The following principles can inform school leaders engaging with a range of evidence:
- Focus on the details of ‘how’, ‘what’ and ‘who’ by considering variation between evidence sources. For example, if an approach has largely been researched in secondary schools, what needs to be put in place to monitor its effectiveness if delivering it in a primary school?
- Engage with a wide range of evidence and actively seek out evidence that challenges your views. It can be instinctive to seek out evidence that confirms our views and supports our existing practices. After exploring the challenges and needs of pupils, seek out evidence that challenges your thinking, such as exploring different strategic approaches, programmes, and practices, that emerge as ‘best bets’ from the evidence that you are currently less familiar with.
- Consider how to be an effective consumer and challenging evidence claims made by external providers. You should question whether approaches have been evaluated and critically assess whether the evaluation is rigorous. Some useful questions might include: Was the programme evaluated by someone other than the programme developer? What outcomes were collected? Etc.
Many of the strategies schools choose to embed might be practice focused, not non-programmatic – with EEF guidance reports or the Teaching and Learning Toolkit proving more appropriate sources for busy teachers and leaders.
In all cases, evidence should complement, rather than replace, professional judgement. However well-evidenced an approach might be, teachers will still need to assess whether elements need to be adapted for successful implementation in their context. The expertise of school leaders then proves paramount.
It is this focus on evidence as part of a wider cycle which recognises the importance of professional expertise that will ultimately make a difference to pupil outcomes. Today, we have published a page supporting schools to utilise evidence in pupil premium spending, which we hope can work in conjunction with the DfE guidance.