Currently, 75% of schools allocate their pupil premium to hiring additional staff. This is disappointing when you consider that students who receive one-to-one support from Teaching Assistants actually do worse than those without, according to several studies by London University’s Institute of Education. This might be due to Teaching Assistants’ focus on task-completion, rather than supporting the student to understand concepts. Despite indicators that extra staff alone cannot narrow the learning gap, schools continue to persist down this route.
Moreover, while schools are being tasked from a top-down level to be more responsible with how they spend their pupil premium, this has translated into little more than publishing the required spend policy documentation on their websites for all but the most innovative schools. With Ofsted stating its intention to take a more thorough look at schools’ use of pupil premium, soon it may no longer be possible for institutions to get away with such lax accountability.
The issue of where to allocate pupil premium is a complex one, with no ‘one-fits-all’ solution, but based on my experience working with a diverse range of schools, from top fee-paying private schools to comprehensives in deprived inner cities, I’d like to make the case for putting the funding in the hands of the pupil, literally, in the form of mobile devices.
For those of you already dubious, ask yourself this: in the past 100 years, how much has the classroom really changed? Students sit in neat rows and the teacher leads the lesson from the front. Knowledge is committed to memory to be later recalled in exams. From time to time I see pockets of change in schools at the cutting edge, but teaching within the UK education system is still a largely lecture-driven process. When you consider how much life has changed for children in the same time, the difference raises more than a few questions. The typical primary school child now grows up in a fully connected, interactive world, yet when they go to school most are back to pen and paper or reading from out-dated textbooks. Why do we accept the use of old technology to teach the youngest generations? If they choose higher education, children entering primary school this year will graduate in 2027. How useful will lessons learned by these old-fashioned means be to them then?
I propose that a larger portion of pupil premium should be spent on mobile technology, on the strict proviso that it is used to enhance the curriculum with an agreed strategy in place among the SLT. There are three reasons I believe this would provide a better education for our students:
Different learning styles are well understood in the educational field, and the majority of research highlights that disadvantaged pupils lean towards tactile learning. How accessible are our classrooms for someone who is turned off by auditory/visual styles of teaching? How much easier is it to internalise a concept or understanding if you’ve figured it out yourself?
Pupils can reap the full rewards by taking their mobile technology home. Educational apps, online resources and school-generated content can be accessed at home. This is popularly known as ‘Flipped Learning,’ where the student learns a concept at home and practises it at school with their teacher. Due to the demands of the curriculum, most lessons currently focus on imparting a concept rather than clarifying understanding. The Flipped Classroom model allows for more time with the teacher for precise guidance and gives students access to the resources they need the most at the right time.
A tablet with a rugged case + insurance over a 3 year period will cost the school no more than £166 per year per pupil. At Secondary level that still leaves £734 per year in the fund for additional staffing / support resources. It’s an incredible cost-effective solution that, pound for pound, I can’t see being beaten.
The ESSA Academy in Bolton offers an example of what rewards this strategy can reap. In 2006, the school was in special measures, with a 5+ A*-C pass rate of just 26% for the 3rd year running. With its back against the wall, ESSA made a drastic change and committed to a full scale 1:1 project. They started by deploying an iPod Touch on a 1:1 basis to each student, before introducing the iPad post-launch. The results have raised more than a few eyebrows. Since 2010, ESSA hasn’t achieved less than a mid 90% pass rate in that same 5 A*-C category, with an average of over 50% of their student base coming from an economically disadvantaged background in that period. These improvements were the result of the deep commitment of its staff to making a cultural shift in the teaching and learning within the school.
Grades are the most haloed of figures, but other schools adopting the 1:1 system have analysed the benefits at a more granular level. Hove Park School hosts a microsite with all kinds of fascinating facts and findings from their own project. The school’s impressive commitment to measuring the project’s outcomes has revealed some stats worthy of note: after two terms using iPads, disadvantaged students narrowed the gap with their peers by 88%, lesson disruption from disadvantaged students fell by 55% and sharing of work with parents increased from 15% to 55%. It is hard to imagine anything other than mobile devices making this big an impact in such a short space of time.
Another great benefit of a mobile device project is its impact on parental interaction. Difficult to measure, this element of a young person’s experience is often disregarded as a viable route to increasing student access. My recent experience at one high school left me with the strong feeling that to underestimate the influence of parental interaction on student learning is a mistake.
I recently worked with Abbot Beyne School on their first rollout of iPads to their Year 7s. We invited all parents to come with their son or daughter to an introductory evening to gain an understanding of the 1:1 project the school was embarking on, and what it would mean for their child. The school has a large percentage of economically-disadvantaged students, and typical parent evening attendances were around the 50% mark. In light of this, it was inspiring to see 95% of the parent body turnout to support their child. As I watched parents and students interact, I realised I was witnessing a shared experience. Parents let their children input all the required data on the iPad, and intervened to offer help with capitalisation, grammar and spelling. As everyone made their way home, excited for the weeks ahead, I wondered how often they were able to enjoy such interactions. It was clear to see that the school had built a very strong bridge into the home that evening. I for one am confident that the students of Abbot Beyne will have a drastically improved learning experience over the coming terms.
These examples alone offer a convincing demonstration of the benefits of utilising Pupil Premium money beyond hiring additional staff. The success of ESSA, Hove Park and Abbot Beyne is not about flashing expensive gadgets in front of students faces; it is founded on an ability to inspire pupils to engage with their learning at a deeper level. Their projects revolve around proper planning and a focused vision on how teaching is going to evolve in their schools.
When these school projects make the news, its the iPad that takes the spotlight. Behind the scenes, the real heavy lifting is done by the staff. It is they who must reexamine how they approach lessons and deliver content to their students. Choosing to embark on a 1:1 project requires embracing positive change and having the guts to do go in a different direction, when so many others steer the same course. I hope this article will go someway in to inspiring you to think innovatively when it comes to drawing up your next Pupil Premium strategy. In the words of Henry Ford: “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.”
How do you go about using your Pupil Premium effectively? Let us know in the comments.