An extra £29 million in pupil premium funding is needed to raise the slipping grades of an ‘invisible group’ of students who are no longer entitled to pupil premium and are unlikely to be known by schools, raising an important question as to whether pupil premium is reaching all the pupils who need it, research by education experts FFT shows1.

The analysis found that receiving even just one year of free school meals is correlated with underachievement throughout the whole of a pupil’s education. Yet pupil premium, an additional support intended to close the attainment gap between disadvantaged and affluent students, only considers those pupils who have been eligible for free school meals in the last six years.

Students who have received free school meals but are no longer eligible for pupil premium, often because their household income just tipped over the £16,000 free school meal threshold, form an invisible group who do not qualify for extra help despite the finding that they are similarly disadvantaged to those who reap its benefits.

In 2013 up to around seven percent of year 11 pupils, nearly 40,000 students, missed out on funding in their final GCSE year. This invisible group average at just above a D grade at GCSE which, at a grade lower than those who’ve never had free school meals and only marginally better than pupils who’ve received school meals for a continuous six years, more closely matches the pupil premium group than those who’ve never received free school meals.

Experts call for an extra £29 million to be spent on pupil premium funding – a payment to schools of £935-£1,300 per pupil – to cover the entire school education of all pupils who have ever been eligible for free school meals, rather than those who have just been eligible in the last six years. Extra funding would be based on the proportion of pupils that have been eligible for free school meals and how long for.

A broader definition of those eligible for pupil premium could make a big difference. Despite facing the same challenges as schools where many pupils qualify for pupil premium, schools with large numbers of pupils once eligible for free school meals but not in the last six years may lose accountability leading to poorer standards. For example, for a school to be rated ‘good’ for pupil achievement by Ofsted, the achievement of students who receive pupil premium must match that of the other pupils.

The paper also found that the impact of economic disadvantage is more pronounced in white, working-class pupils. Pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds achieve nearly one grade lower than students who have never been eligible for support. But white pupils drop over one and a half grades if they are eligible for free school meals throughout their education.

The Co-operative Academy of Manchester is already helping to close the attainment gap. Dr Mike Treadway, Director of Innovation and Research at FFT, said that ‘in just four years, the school has narrowed the gap in GCSE attainment between students on pupil premium and others by half, which is five times better than the national average’.

‘By adding extra funding to pupil premium and counting those previously overlooked in the invisible group, a positive step could be made towards helping other schools follow in the Co-operative Academy’s […] footsteps in helping disadvantaged students to achieve their full potential.’



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