The following blog was written as part of our Learn Without Limits series, looking at different aspects of policy change within Further Education.
Transformative Policy: The Pupil Premium
Written by James Turner, CEO, The Sutton Trust
Since its introduction in 2010, the pupil premium has helped sharpen the focus on improving outcomes for the most disadvantaged pupils. By recognising the stubborn link between family income and education outcomes, it has allowed schools to target additional resources at those pupils who need it most. Importantly, the premium has also focused the conversation not only on the amount of money spent on the poorest young people – but how those funds are spent too. According to our recent polling, 69% of teachers now use the Sutton Trust and Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit to help inform evidence-based practice which includes how best to allocate pupil premium funds.
The Pupil Premium certainly has the potential to be a transformative policy in terms of boosting social mobility. In 2015 we saw the introduction of the early years pupil premium, to recognise the additional barriers the very youngest children face in becoming ready for school. So it is even more surprising that this support does not at present extend into post-16 settings. Not only has this sector been historically under-funded, but we also know it is crucial for determining a young person’s future education and career prospects.
The pandemic effect
The need for additional support for disadvantaged students at this stage of their education has never been greater. While all pupils have had their learning affected by the pandemic, our research has shown time and again that students from lower-income backgrounds have been hit the hardest.
At the beginning of the pandemic, for example, students in independent schools were twice as likely to take part in online lessons every day as those who were at state schools. And poorer families generally found it harder to engage with digital learning at home due to a lack of a quiet space to study, poor WIFI or not having access to a suitable laptop or tablet. Many schools and colleges in disadvantaged areas, struggling with fewer resources and multiple challenges, were not geared up for an immediate switch to digital learning. Understandably, it took many institutions a while to find their feet – and poorer parents meanwhile felt less confident in supporting their children’s work at home compared to their better-off peers.
Yet despite all this, students in post-16 education have been conspicuously left out of the majority of education recovery planning. These young people have experienced severe disruption in two of the most crucial years of their education. Their plight has been exacerbated by the uncertainty around exams and assessment which, according to our research, dominated student concerns throughout the pandemic. They also reported anxieties about the future, whether that’s the likelihood of securing an apprenticeship, work experience, university place or a good job.
Despite this, most of the significant policy solutions put forward so far, including the recovery premium and the National Tutoring Programme, have focused on pupils age 5-16. This means that schools and colleges have no additional resources to provide further support to students going on to some of the most important years of their education.
Why we need to extend the funding
There would be significant benefits to extending the pupil premium to 16-19 year-olds: colleges and sixth forms could use the funding in range of ways to best support their students, depending on their context and the communities they serve. They could invest in interventions to make help both short- and long- term catch up, including providing tailored support for students resitting English and maths GCSEs, and helping to aid transitions into careers and further study. A post-16 premium could also be used to provide high quality professional development for staff (an absolutely crucial building block of any successful system), and incentives to attract and retain specialist teachers.
This additional help would support the poorest students to get back on track for A Levels, T Levels, BTECs, and for those who need GCSE passes to progress further in their education. These young people have the least time left in secondary education before they move onto higher education, training and the labour market. It is vital that resources are invested in helping this group before they leave school and college for good. The clock really is ticking on the chance to make a difference.
About The Sutton Trust
Social mobility in Britain is low. The educational opportunities and life chances of a child born today are strongly linked to their parents’ socio-economic background. This is the challenge we face. Since 1997 and under the leadership of founder, Sir Peter Lampl, the Sutton Trust has worked to address this. They fight for social mobility from birth to the workplace so that every young person – no matter who their parents are, what school they go to, or where they live – has the chance to succeed in life.
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