With the publication of Ofstedâ€™s â€˜Unseen Children: access and achievement 20 years onâ€™ report over the summer, all eyes are on the attainment of FSM students.
Free School Meals (FSM) is a quick and simple way to isolate and analyse the achievement of disadvantaged pupils against that of their peers, to measure whether economic and domestic situations impact upon attainment.
Ofstedâ€™s Unseen Children report equates the current situation of FSM pupils against that of 20 years ago when urban areas of deprivation were the largest culprits for underachievement. This has now been reversed, thanks largely to targeted initiatives such as London Challenge, and coastal and market towns are now witnessing the greatest gap in achievement.
When presenting the report, Sir Michael Wilshaw stipulated that Ofsted is to be tougher on schools that are not doing enough for their poorer children. The report recognised that FSM students do worse at schools in areas of relative affluence, stating that the achievement of others acts as a mask, a fact that could jeopardise an Outstanding grading in the future if not addressed.
In 2012, 36% of FSM students achieved 5 A*-to-C GCSE grades compared with 63% of their peers. As a consequence, fewer students progress to A-Levels, with an obvious result of fewer university applications.
According to DfE statistics, 46% of FSM students went on to university, compared with 48% non-FSM, yet just 4% of those receiving free dinners went to a Russell Group university.
This, in turn, has a decided impact on future career prospects. The Sutton Trust, a charity dedicated to improving social mobility through education, stated that students from private schools are over-represented in the â€˜eliteâ€™ career paths, comprising 35% of MPs, 51% of medics and 70% of High Court judges.
So what can be done to close this ever-present gulf in attainment?
The increased Pupil Premium will certainly help. Its 50% rise to Â£900 this academic year will provide much-needed money to target problem areas. A further rise to Â£1,300 for every disadvantaged primary school pupil in 2014 will, hopefully, continue to close even further the FSM gap.
In the meantime, some schools are already narrowing it. Following the publication of the 2013 GCSE results, â€˜The Guardianâ€™ published an article focusing on a school in Rotherham whose pupils gained 90% A*to C grades in 2013, but who come from one of the most deprived areas in the country. 58% received FSM and 25% spoke English as a second language. No excuses needed, they bridged the gap.
The DfE also published information about a Birmingham school which used its Pupil Premium to provide high staff levels, smaller class sizes and out-of-hours targeted teaching to 25 students, 19 of whom received FSM. The outcome so far â€“ exam results are rising steadily and more students are opting to stay on into the sixth form. The young people are enthusiastic about the additional sessions â€“ and enjoy collecting extra stamps for the schoolâ€™s system of rewards.
Socio-economic disadvantage is a barrier to learning, but it is not insurmountable. There is no obvious overnight solution and no one solution that will suit all. However, there are already success stories and hopefully, with the increase in the Pupil Premium, those stories will become more frequent. SR
Effective Use Of The Pupil Premium
- Eligibility for PP does not mean low ability â€“ support pupils to achieve the highest levels.
- Protect funding for target group of pupils.
- Critically analyse which pupils are underachieving and why.
- Ensure day-to-day teaching meets the needs of each learner.
- Ensure support staff are highly trained.
- Have a designated senior leader with a clear overview of how the funding is being allocated and the difference it is making to the outcomes for pupils.
- Allocate your best teachers to teach intervention groups to improve mathematics and English.
- Frequent use of achievement data to check whether interventions are working and amend as needed.
- Ensure teachers know which pupils are eligible for the Pupil Premium so that responsibility for accelerating their progress is owned.
- Improve attendance, behaviour or links with families with well-targeted support.
- Rigid performance management systems for all staff.
- Governors are made part of the decision making and evaluation process.
- Demonstrate the impact of each aspect of spending through careful monitoring and evaluation.