‘Invisible group’ misses out on pupil premium funds

Published on Friday, 18 July 2014 10:28
Written by Govtoday staff

One year of free school meals, even just in reception class, affects pupils' academic performance for the rest of their education according to new analysis by not-for-profit education data specialist FFT.

While some pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds perform very well, the academic penalty paid by most underprivileged pupils is widely recognised. However, additional support known as pupil premium is only provided for the immediate six years after pupils have received free school meals.

The analysis by FFT has discovered an 'invisible group' of students, that do not qualify for pupil premium, but who suffer comparable levels of underachievement to pupils who have been on free school meals for their entire schooling. This 'invisible group' makes up 4% of the overall pupil population and around 7% of current year 11 pupils, almost 40,000 students.

These findings have led experts to call for a further £29m to be added to pupil premium funding, so all pupils who have ever received free school meals are eligible for the additional academic support this provides for them.

The 'invisible group', whose entitlement to pupil premium has ended, average just above a D grade at GCSE. This is almost a grade lower than pupils who have never had free school meals, who average just above a C grade. This equates to this 'invisible group' averaging one whole grade lower in seven out of eight GCSE subjects.

Those in the 'invisible group' do perform marginally better than pupils who have received free school meals for a continuous six years or those who have had free school meals sporadically. However, all groups achieve an average of at least a whole grade lower than their peers who have never received free school meals.

FFT's director of innovation and research, Dr Mike Treadaway, said the 'invisible group' has implications beyond pupil premium funding. Schools' overall attainment performance could be affected by this fall-out in funding and these institutions need more support to close their pupils' economic gap.

Dr Treadaway said: "We would like to see the Department for Education broaden the definition of pupil premium qualification, so that it includes all children who had ever been known to be eligible for free school meals, rather than just those known to have been eligible in the past six years.

"Through this analysis, we also believe government should consider extra funding for schools based on the proportion of pupils that have been eligible for free school meals for most of their time at school."

The Co-operative Academy of Manchester is in the top 1% of schools in terms of the rate of progress in closing the attainment gap between those on pupil premium and other students. In four years the school has closed the gap in GCSE attainment by half, which is five times more than what has happened nationally. The school's head teacher, Steve Brice, attributes this to the "rigorous quality assurance of assessment and accurate, timely and data driven intervention".
He added: "The academy's values-led culture and no excuses mind-set ensures students make good progress regardless of which pupil group they happen to belong to. The key to successful intervention is ensuring teachers are equipped to identify and track gaps in performance at class level."

The report also found that the impact of economic disadvantage is more pronounced in white working class pupils than in those from minority ethnic groups. Pupils from minority ethnic groups, receiving free school meals throughout their education, score just short of one grade less (0.92) than their peers who have never been eligible for support. This compares to white pupils who drop over one and a half grades (1.69) if they are eligible for free school meals throughout their education.

FFT intends to explore this in a further research paper due this autumn.

Source: FFT

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