EEF Blog: The Pupil Premium and school segregation – an opportunity for FE?

Following the recent government announcement of additional public funding to support 16-19 year-old students whose studies have been disrupted by Covid-19 closures, the EEF’s Policy Officer Shelby Roberts explores whether this could be an opportunity for post-16 settings to replicate the seeming success of the Pupil Premium in reducing socio-economic segregation and closing the disadvantage gap…

The Department for Education (DfE) has announced additional funding to support tutoring for post-16 students. Targeted funding, spent on tutoring or similarly effective catch-up interventions, could directly help these young people recover from any learning lost during the period when schools and colleges have been closed, increasing their chances of leaving formal education with the essential qualifications needed to get a foot on their chosen career ladder.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the education sector has long recognised the challenge of ensuring improved levels of literacy and numeracy for this group. Each year, more than a third of 16-year-olds do not attain a good pass, a Grade 4 or higher, in either English or Maths at GCSE and somust continue to study these subjects until they are 18, or secure a qualification in them.1

Post-16 funding and its impact

Post-16 settings – further education colleges, schools, and sixth form centres – have received no additional funding to support these students and achievement rates remain low. By age 19, over 164,000 students – 30% of the total cohort – had still not achieved a good standard of recognised qualifications in English and Maths. This includes a majority (50.2%) of all students who had been eligible for free school meals.2

To understand more about the impact additional funding could have on the attainment of low-attaining maths students, the Education Endowment Foundation is funding an evaluation of the Post-16 Basic Maths Premium, a DfE pilot to provide additional funding for post-16 settings in disadvantaged areas. The evaluation will assess the impact of three different funding models compared to similar settings in areas not eligible for funding. The findings of the evaluation are expected to be published in Spring 2022.

This September, a new cohort of Year 12 students will begin the process of re-taking their English and maths GCSEs, having not achieved a grade 4 or higher according to the moderated teacher assessment by which their grades are being awarded this year. They will do so having missed out on a significant chunk of their Key Stage 4 schooling. For these students, additional targeted support will be essential to help them regain any learning lost as a result of school closures.

Reducing post-16 socio-economic segregation

However, there is a second reason that additional funding targeted at post-16 students from low-income backgrounds could be beneficial. According to the Social Mobility Commission, ‘twice the number of disadvantaged 16 to 18-year-olds are in Further Education (FE) colleges compared to school sixth forms, and this segregation has risen by 1.2 per cent since 2013’. When taking GCSE Maths and English resits, those who improve the least are clustered in FE college settings, where significantly more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds study.3

One of the original aims of the Pupil Premium policy of targeting additional funding at disadvantaged children was to address the problem of social and economic segregation between schools; in effect, to incentivise schools to admit more disadvantaged pupils. And, indeed, there is evidence to suggest that the policy has been making an impact. 

Last year, Prof. Stephen Gorard and colleagues published a paper that looked at the impact of the Pupil Premium since its introduction in 2011 and assessed whether disadvantaged pupils (those eligible for Free School Meals or FSM) pupils have become more evenly mixed in schools.4

Across England, as Prof. Gorard notes, ‘poorer children are clustered to some extent in economic regions, areas of housing and schools’. This ‘cluster effect’ has several potential negative impacts, including, for example, lowering pupil aspiration and making teacher recruitment more challenging.

Utilising a new analysis based on data from the National Pupil Database and measures to consider changes in the prevalence of FSM-eligibility and other key factors over time, the paper concludes that in schools, ‘segregation has declined unexpectedly since 2011, suggesting that the Pupil Premium may be working’ to reduce socio-economic segregation in the school system.

Evaluating whether additional targeted funding could also have a similar effect on socio-economic segregation in post-16 settings would be extremely valuable.

1 ASCL (2019). The Forgotten Third Report. Oxford University Press: Oxford. Available here: https://www.ascl.org.uk/ASCL/media/ASCL/Our%20view/Campaigns/The-Forgotten-Third_full-report.pdf

2 Education Endowment Foundation (2018). The Attainment Gap 2017. Education Endowment Foundation: London. Available here: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Annual_Reports/EEF_Attainment_Gap_Report_2018.pdf

3 Social Mobility Commission (2019). State of the Nation 2018-2019. Social Mobility in Great Britain, Social Mobility Commission: London. Available here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/798404/SMC_State_of_the_Nation_Report_2018-19.pdf

4 Stephen Gorard Nadia Siddiqui & Beng Huat See (2019). The difficulties of judging what difference the Pupil Premium has made to school intakes and outcomes in England. Research Papers in Education. Available here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02671522.2019.1677759#