Schools warned over spending on poor pupils

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ONLY one-in-ten school leaders say the Government’s pupil premium fund has made a significant impact in the way they support poorer pupils.

The premium gives schools extra funding for every child they teach from deprived backgrounds but schools are not told how to spend it.

A study published today by Ofsted reveals that some schools are not using it all for “the specific groups which it was intended.”

The education watchdog warned that if schools do not spend the money more effectively then the Government should consider ringfencing it or linking it to outcomes that can be measured.

Ofsted inspectors questioned 262 school leaders across the country in April and May this year about the pupil premium during inspection visits.

Its report shows schools do not routinely separate cash they receive from the pupil premium from the rest of their budget.

Ofsted is now recommending that schools should ensure pupil premium money is not absorbed into its mainstream funding.

It is also calling on school leaders and governing bodies to evaluate their spending to ensure the premium is not being used for activities which have “little impact on pupils from poorer backgrounds.”

The most common use of the pupil premium - in more two-fifths of the schools questioned - was to pay for teaching assistants, according to Ofsted.

Just over a quarter of schools said the premium had been used in part to fund existing or new teachers while a third of schools used the money to subsidise or pay for trips and residential visits.

In 2011/12 schools received £488 for each pupil who receives free school meals or who has been in continuous care for six months.

Ofsted have also warned today that thousands of the brightest children in England are failing to achieve top grades at GCSE because they are being entered into exams early.

It said the situation could affect pupils’ chances of pursuing the subjects at A-level or getting into university.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said the watchdog will be “critical” of schools which use early entry for GCSE where they are not “absolutely confident” that pupils will be awarded an A* or A grade. Ofsted statistics showed an “explosion” in early entries for maths and English at GCSE over the past six years. Around a third of all pupils - more than 200,000 in each subject - are now entered early for these exams.

Figures released by Ofsted have shown that among pupils who were the highest achievers at primary school, reaching level five in Sats exams as 11-year-olds, 12 per cent fewer were awarded A grades in English and 11 per cent fewer got A grades in maths in 2011 where they took the GCSE exam early, compared to those who were not.

“We think early entry hurts the chances of the most able children getting the top grades of A*, A and B which they need to progress to A level and certainly to university,” Sir Michael said.

He said around one-in-five children, who leave primary school with level five do not achieve the top grades at GCSE of A*, A or B as a result of a “combination” of factors including early entry at GCSE.

Other factors included low expectations in schools of pupils, a failure to track the progress of pupils sufficiently and what Sir Michael termed “the curse of mixed ability classes without mixed ability teaching.”

“This is not a judgment on mixed ability as opposed to setting or streaming, it is saying where there are mixed ability classes unless there is differentiated teaching to groups of school children in the class, unless there are individual programmes of work, it doesn’t work,” he said,

Sir Michael’s remarks were made as Ofsted published two reports about the pupil premium and another which examined the steps taken by head teachers in schools that have improved from satisfactory to good or better.