The first thing David Laws has been doing as the new Education Minister is promoting the Pupil Premium. For schools in Haringey it’s worth £8.8million. So it’s a shame that their Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone ends up having to write to them to find out how they are spending the money.
One report finds that while some schools are spending the premium as intended, for example on early intervention schemes or more one-to-one tuition, a sizeable number also use it to mitigate cuts. Most worryingly teachers don’t seem to be aware of their school having priorities for spending the pupil premium.
Family Action believes it’s vital the pupil premium is used as a lever to raise awareness among schools and teachers of how disadvantage directly impacts on children’s attainment. Our Be Bothered! report published this week shows that many schools and teachers remain unaware of the challenges facing some of the UK’s most vulnerable pupils: the 175,000 young carers who look after parents or siblings with disabilities, illness or substance abuse issues.
Many teachers remain unaware that these pupils have caring responsibilities outside the classroom, punish them for lateness, inattention and failure to complete assignments, (which may be caused by their caring duties) and fail to offer to offer them any additional support. One teacher from London told us: “This guy was in my form, I didn’t know that he was a young carer for three years that I was his form tutor. I was supposed to know everything about him and I didn’t have a clue at all , maybe it was a lack of communication on all of our parts. Eventually when we did find out we tried to help him a little bit more bit I think it was too late by then. He wasn’t educated the way he should have been.”
This is unacceptable when schools are getting dished out a pupil premium worth £2.5 billion by 2014, not to mention the millions being doled out to local authorities to tackle school attendance and exclusion via the Troubled Families programme.
One answer would be duties and guidance for schools to be proactive in reaching out to parents to identify the needs of all pupils on free school meals and ensuring form teachers devise appropriate strategies for all vulnerable young people accordingly. A further step would be the ringfencing of pupil premium monies. The Children and Families Bill presents an opportunity for either measure.
In any case the message of Be Bothered is that Liberal Democrats and their colleagues need to work to secure a legacy for the pupil premium rather than assuming that there will be one.
Rhian Beynon is Head of Policy and Campaigns for the charity Family Action, a leading provider of services to disadvantaged and socially isolated families since its foundation in 1869.
* Rhian Beynon is Head of Policy and Campaigns for the charity Family Action, a leading provider of services to disadvantaged and socially isolated families since its foundation in 1869.