Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Reading up on the Pupil Premium

Now would be as good a time as any to do a brief update on my thesis research question (RQ) which, admittedly, is still at the proposal stage. I am still planning on a focus on student perception of feedback, with the help of student researchers, but I've added a new element as well; the Pupil Premium (PP). For those of you not in the know, the PP was created in 2011 as a way to narrow the achievement gap between 'disadvantaged' students and their more 'well-off' counterparts. The reason for this is that pupils who are economically disadvantaged have an increased risk of falling behind, failing to achieve their expected targets, and are unlikely to attend University. By providing schools with direct funding for each of these students, the hope is that schools can better address the gap in achievement.

The reason I've made this change to my RQ is two-fold; first of all, as part of the school improvement plan this year (or maybe it's called an Action Plan - I'm not sure) there is a school-wide focus on addressing the achievement gap between PP students and their peers; the second reason is that the SUPER M.Ed group is also making the PP gap an area of focus. Obviously it would be killing two (or three) birds with one stone if I tried to find a way to incorporate PP into my thesis study. 

In fact, I'm already a part of the Research Enquiry Group, which is going to focus on conducting action research regarding strategies teachers can undertake to narrow the gap. Within my group, we're going to focus on building resiliency among PP students so that they are less likely to 'give up' on difficult tasks. This is partly why I've started reading so many books on making thinking visible within lessons. 

I've also spent the last week researching the PP itself. It's led me through a lot of Department for Education documents (snore), Ofsted documents (which actually aren't that bad - reading them has made my dislike of the Inspectorate slightly intense; I can actually see the merit of some of their concerns), and various 'independent' studies. I say 'independent' rather sarcastically because many of the reviews of the PP are made on behalf of either the DfE or Ofsted, so I sometimes doubt their objectivity. I also very easily found the Sutton Trust PP Toolkit, which outlined a number of programmes of use for the PP, and read through a number of criticisms as well. 

The point I wanted to make for the time being is that there's a lot of talk about the merits of the PP, and a lot of preliminary 'study' has gone into its effectiveness, but ultimately we can't really judge the value of the PP until more time has passed. I think we also need to ensure, as schools, that we're rigorously tracking the effect of any intervention programmes we conduct with PP money, for PP students, before we make any claims about what works and what doesn't. 

That being said, I do think the PP is a very worthwhile initiative. If used the right way (which means careful planning) there is no way it can't be helpful.  Things that seem to be 'sound investments' include tailoring programmes to suit individual students needs, working with students on long term learning gains (opposed to one-off intervention sessions), getting parents involved so that they can become better enablers of learning at home, making use of effective and frequent feedback (I knew that one would be on there) and tackling the issues when students are young, before the gap grows.

Obviously there is much more to it than that, but that's about all I feel up to discussing at the minute. I think it's time for me to finally start my half term break. I've already spent the firsts 4 days doing research and other such things, and you know what they say;  all work and no play make Jack a dull boy. 

I'll see you next week. 

KC