Opinion: A good news story – and a clear justification for the Pupil Premium

Why are ministers turning stories into bad news? Perhaps the ‘age of austerity’ has addled their brains or are they are still operating in ‘opposition mode’. Nick Gibbs’s announcement of the Key State 1 results is a case in point.

Now I know Nick Gibbs has an agenda to mandate synthetic phonics as the only way to teach reading – see the DfE Business Plan – and the contradiction between that level of prescription and ‘freeing up the curriculum’ is but one part of the muddle that is policy-making within Sanctuary Buildings at present.

But, that’s not the story here.

Rather there is a good news story waiting to be told, and a clear justification for the Pupil Premium, a Lib Dem policy that David Cameron was converted to in 2008 just before the Henley by-election when I recorded the Tory web site as saying they would in government ‘divert more resources to pupils who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.’

This damascene conversion helped ensure the Pupil Premium became a prominent part of the coalition agreement without the need for too much struggle on our part, although we still await the detail of how it will work in practice.

Still, now to the good news story: earlier this year I re-wrote the Building Schools for the future announcement to show how Michael Gove might have handled the unfortunate but necessary scrapping of Labour’s baldly thought through policy. So here goes with yesterday’s announcement:

94% of pupil at KS1 who don’t have special needs can read at the expected standard and 91% reach the expected standards in writing along with 96.8% in mathematics (although I think they mean numeracy). These are impressive results from the early years teams in our schools, nurseries and Sure Start centres. In Richmond upon Thames, the figure for reading amongst pupils without SEN was 97%, and even in Haringey and Newham 90% of these pupils achieved the standard.

However, it is clear that pupils on free school meals, as well as those with special needs, and especially those who fall into both categories, need more help to access the building blocks of learning, as do some whose first language isn’t English. This is just the sort of help the Pupil Premium is designed to bring.

These figures justify the use of Free School Meals as the correct indicator for additional resources; although children with special needs also need extra help regardless of their circumstances.

I would have added the other coalition policies about extra one to one teaching and the protection of schools in the CSR announcement, and finished with a challenge to teachers and parents to strive for 100%. As a minister, I might also have wanted to look at whether those young children who learn in an environment rich in play and home support do better than those shunted between different bed and breakfast accommodations resulting in frequent changes of school.

Rather than pandering to middle class whims for ‘free’ schools, and wasting millions on an academy programme that isn’t the real answer, the Key Stage 1 outcomes show hard evidence of where resources are needed. With these resources, we can challenge the teachers to provide the results. Then it will no longer be acceptable for any teacher to say, this child is falling behind because they come from a poor background.

Professor John Howson is President of the Liberal Democrat Education Association, but writes here in a personal capacity.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • “the protection of schools in the CSR announcement”

    Really? You believe that? My son’s school has just lost a huge amount of sports funding and with it a whole host of valuable projects which have had a measuable social impact. The CSR announcement conceals a multiplicity of cuts.

  • patricia roche 15th Nov '10 - 10:49am

    how sad that the premium has been redirected from other children. What has happened to the big society by the way as the funding of schools will now come from government who can decide how to engineer lots of stuff through this change.

  • The pupil premium was a brilliant idea if it was based upon new money. The fact that in reality the money is in the most part being taken from Peter and given to Paul.

    The other problem is that to accept the good news in the figures will, in part, be accepting that Labour’s policies were relatively effective at KS1. That’s not to say I agree with them all or that they could not be improved, just an acceptance that the start point is not too bad.

    Of course the Goverment would never look into the use of B&B and transient pupils as once the benefit changes come into force there is an anticipation of a rise in families requiring temporary accomodation. And let’s not forget Sure Start are now in a position of year on year real terms reductions so praising them will also be a no no. As soon as one is closed of places reduced the opposition will rightly use words of praise from the Government to challenge why their budget was reduced….

  • The Pupil Premium has been funded by cuts to Welfare, cuts in the Education Budget and the complete withdrawal of EMA. No more support then for poorer sixth formers!!! This seems to be passing Lib Dems by.

  • Well said Anne. I’d like to add that the Pupil Premium is also being funded by the scrapping of plans to extend free schoool meals to all under fives living below the povery line – very “progressive”..

    By the way, please would someone explain to me what will happen to the children of families, if their parents’ benefit is withdrawn for 3 months/6 months/3 years?

  • “Honour satisfied all round. Party integrity intact. It’s good that at least Vince Cable is thinking clearly!”

    Yes he is thinking clearly – he knows that an abstention is in fact, a vote in favour – it will ensure that the proposals on tuition fees will go through. Yet more deception and hyprocisy. As regards integrity – ALL Libdems signed a pledge to vote AGAINST the proposals, not to abstain.

  • Norfolk Boy 15th Nov '10 - 4:05pm

    I was about to point out the failings, funding-wise, of the pupil premium but I see I’ve been roundly beaten to it.

    A someone who has taught children and adults how to read, synthetic phonics isn’t all it’s cracked up to be nevermind being the ‘only’ way to teach reading

  • Even if the pupil premium were new money, it would still be problematical. Overall, by the end of primary only about half of pupils on free school meals reach expected levels, compared with over three quarters of pupils not entitled to FSM. This is unacceptable and urgently needs to be addressed. The problem with the premium is that it will target all of the children entitled to FSM, whether or not they are falling behind (including very high achievers), but will completely ignore the 25% of pupils not entitled to FSM who are falling behind.

  • I can honestly say “I have not met one person who thinks the pupil premium is new money just money taken from education cuts” can anyone say different i don,t think so.
    Andrew Edinburgh

  • jackie schneider 16th Nov '10 - 12:04am

    ” Good news story waiting to be told”
    I am speechless at your analysis. – Competitive sport at state schools likely to stop. School dinner services threatened and kids living under the poverty line will now not be eligible for free school meals. Market forces to run universities and students face a tripling of university fees.
    Nick Clegg should be utterly ashamed. Good luck to NUS

  • Peter Chivall 16th Nov '10 - 11:57am

    There are other press releases on education that could be rewritten if stories about the upcoming White Paper are correct;
    “The Government is going to give parents and headteachers the freedom to pay more to teachers the head likes – but only from a reduced budget dictated by a quango responsible to the Minister. Local elected Councils will no longer be able to help schools overcome local pockets of deprivation – that would be ‘political interference’ – but the Minister will be able to impose his ideological prejudices on history or teaching reading on all schools in England, whether the evidence supports him or not.
    There will be the ‘pupil premium’ to help, but this money will be taken from elsewhere in the education budget, although not from areas affecting more affluent voters.
    Local authorities will still have to provide for pupils with special needs and assist schools deemed to be failing by OFSTED, regardless of their socio-economic profile, but as all the money for education will be controlled by the Minister, they won’t have any resources to do it with.
    Finally, as the Government will be dumping all the responsibility for running schools on unpaid parent-governors, we will be quite happy if they ask an American management company to do it for them, and pay them handsomely from the remaining education budgets in the process.
    Since education spending is approximately 50% of Local Authority budgets, the Government wants eventually to abolish all elected local councils and ask the Big Society to take over the remaining functions.”
    None of this nonsense was in the Coalition Agreement, but it is obvious that the ‘smaller Government’ that Tory dominated ministries like Education, Local Government and DEFRA mean does not apply to Central Government powers.
    I did not spend a large part of the last 40 years as an active Liberal and Liberal Democrat to see a Liberal Democrats in coalition acquiesce in the further emasculation of democratic local government. I will expect EVERY LibDem MP to vote against this White Paper when it appears.

  • I’d like to think John Howson for his brief favourable comments about Newham, where for many years it has not been “acceptable for any teacher to say, this child is falling behind because they come from a poor background.”.

    Many children here come from families where English is not the first language and very few Schools have less than the national average number of pupils eligible for Free School Meals. According to the Council’s Grant figures, the majority of young people have been entering higher education by age 21 since 1997, if not earlier.

    I am in no position to comment on whether or not the “Pupil Premium” will produce more or less money locally unless and until its size and distribution are published.

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