Aled Roberts AM writes … Assessing the outcomes of a pupil premium in Wales

Education is a cornerstone of Liberal Democrat policy and principle. As Lib Dems we subscribe to the view that education is a crucial means by which individuals can realise their full potential. It was only fitting, therefore, that one of our key 2010 election pledges was the implementation of a policy which could address the inequalities in our education system – the Pupil Premium. It was a clear and straightforward manifesto pledge, easy to campaign on and one of the major Lib Dem policy accomplishments for England when Lib Dems went into Coalition Government. Accompanied by the Sutton Trust Toolkit for Implementation the Pupil Premium looked secure and sustainable.

In Wales, the outcome of the 2011 elections saw Labour with exactly half of the available seats and a potential problem with getting their Budget voted through by the Assembly.  Intense negotiations eventually led to the Welsh Government agreeing to provide £38 million for a Welsh Pupil Premium in exchange for our support with the Budget. The funding amounted to £450 for every pupil in receipt of free school meals and Welsh Liberal Democrats were understandably delighted to have secured a great deal for disadvantaged children despite not being in Government. Over 100,000 children in Wales are classed as living in poverty (25% – 31% depending on housing costs being taken into account). Coupled with the link between deprivation and low educational attainment there is an urgent need for practical solutions.

Education itself is in a difficult place in Wales. In international tests (PISA), recent results show us in 38th, 40th and 30th places out of 67 countries in Reading, Maths and Science; 40% of pupils in Wales start secondary school with a reading age more than six months below their actual age; literacy and numeracy skills show evidence of underperformance at every key stage. There is a great deal of work to be done here, but the steady stream of initiatives and strategies coming from the Welsh Government is no guarantee of successful outcomes for Welsh pupils.

Monitoring the progress of individual pupils is essential. The Welsh Government’s recent “banding” of secondary schools in Wales was counter-productive and demotivating for many teachers, pupils and parents. Because of the various criteria used to apply the bands, many schools with good exam results found themselves in the lower quartiles. Conversely, schools in the top bands could still have specific issues within departments which would be hidden by their favourable grade.

So how should we assess our Welsh Pupil Premium, or to give it its official name, the ‘Pupil Deprivation Grant’? In July, the Sutton Trust published the results of a teacher survey it commissioned into how the Pupil Premium is being used in England. The findings, which highlight that many of the teachers surveyed are unaware of how the pupil premium should be or is being spent in their schools, are a lesson to us in Wales to make sure that we carefully monitor the application of the grant. Every effort must be made to make sure teachers are aware that the money has a specific purpose for disadvantaged pupils and isn’t there to act as a stop-gap when other budget areas come under pressure.

The next budget discussions will begin in Wales very soon.  For the Pupil Deprivation Grant to maintain its credibility as a practical solution to educational disadvantage it is crucial that this flagship Lib Dem policy is appropriately implemented and diligently monitored.

* Aled Roberts is the Lib Dem Assembly Member for North Wales and is the Welsh Liberal Democrats' Education Spokesperson

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • It’s been amusing to see Labour politicians in Wales trying to claim the Pupil Premium as their own. Still, better than Leanne Wood who has criticised the policy.

  • Julian Wright 19th Sep '12 - 11:59am

    I agree with Aled’s comments that ‘Monitoring the progress of individual pupils is essential’.
    My schools all use a web based system called TIMEextra which allows them to monitor the Pupil Premium spend for each pupil, across the whole school and across wider clusters and then evidence the spend against improvements in attainment, attendance and behaviour.
    Ultimately this evidence could be collated across every school in Wales that uses the system to provide evidence on the best ‘return on investment’ for the different types of Pupil Premium spend.
    I am happy to share more details if anyone is interested.
    Details are at and I am on [email protected].

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