Chalk Talk: There’s more to pupil premiums than money


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Nice to note that Birmingham is obviously doing something right after everything written about the “Trojan Horse” affair’s adverse influence on its schools.

Figures show that it has among the best results in the country for the achievements of its free school meals pupils – 63 per cent reach the required standard in English and maths national curriculum tests at 11, and 49 per cent get five A* to C grades at GCSE, including maths and English.

In fact, its results denote a trend, with disadvantaged pupils in inner cities doing markedly better than those in the counties, coastal and rural areas. The biggest gaps between the performance of rich and poor pupils are 29 per cent in Wokingham for 11-year-olds and 43 per cent in Southend-on-Sea for GCSE performance.

According to Sir John Dunford, the Government’s pupil premium “champion”, the story is the same “from Northumberland to Cornwall and all over the place”.

One of the reasons could be a reluctance on the part of parents to claim free school meals for their children because they do not like to admit to poverty in an area that is generally more affluent, said Sir John.

However, a conference to discuss the impact of the pupil premium – which gives schools money for every disadvantaged pupil they take in – showed that some innovative methods were being adopted to improve performance. Some schools had used the money to buy pupils alarm clocks (on the theory that their parents are less likely to be ensuring their children get off to school on time). Another school was awarding every free school meal pupil an extra £1 on their swipe card every day – provided that they used it before 8.45am the next morning to buy breakfast at its breakfast club, as a healthy, well-nourished child learns better.

Just a word about Sir John’s job title. Under Labour, those who masterminded the government’s causes were called “tsars”. That was too authoritarian for the Coalition. Hence, you have champions springing up all over the education world. It’s a better job title than another I came across last week. Julie McCulloch is apparently Director of Policy and Thought Leadership at Pearson, which smacks to me of 1984.