10 Low-Cost Pupil Premium Intervention Ideas Every Primary School Can Use to Close the Attainment Gap

Pupil Premium intervention ideas come in many forms, but evidence collected across thousands of schools shows that some strategies are more effective than others. 

With Ofsted now giving greater focus to how effectively schools make use of the Pupil Premium grant they receive, it’s essential that headteachers and senior leaders can select the interventions that will have maximum impact for their schools. 

One-to-One Tuition: The Ultimate Pupil Premium Intervention

In terms of absolute effectiveness one-to-one tutoring continues to be the best intervention strategy available, and here at Third Space Learning we’ve managed to make it both more impactful and affordable than ever before.

Social mobility champions The Sutton Trust recently published a report on how schools interact with tuition.

It highlights how ‘pupils who receive tuition disproportionately come from better-off backgrounds’ and calls for more to be done in school to ‘level the playing field’ between those from ‘high affluence’ and ‘low affluence’ households.

One of the key recommendations for schools is that more 1-to-1 tuition is provided in school through Pupil Premium spending.

With our highly personalised pupil-by-pupil approach to lesson plans and structures, our maths interventions have improved results for over 54,000 pupils across 1800 schools already – making them one of the most effective methods to use as a means of helping your pupils in receipt of Pupil Premium.

Moreover our use of online tutoring to deliver lessons significantly reduces cost-per-pupil of an intervention, making Third Space Learning a more affordable intervention solution than many others.

We also provide our schools with access to our online Maths Hub, full of useful resources, practice papers etc. to use with all your pupils – providing benefits for the whole school, and reducing your spending on finding/creating these resources yourself.

Whilst many of our schools use our interventions as part of their Pupil Premium funding, the affordability of our intervention plans and the additional benefits we offer mean many other schools make us part of their wider budget too.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has collated the cheapest but-still-impactful strategies in their Teaching and Learning Toolkit. We consider many of these strategies just good teaching practice, worth giving a go if you can!

10 Low-Cost Pupil Premium Intervention Ideas Proven To Be Effective

pupil premium intervention ideas low cost

1. Feedback

Cost: Low
Impact: +8 months

Moderate evidence collected by the EEF suggests that feedback delivers high impact for very low cost (around £80 per pupil per year). In simple terms, it is information given to the pupil or their teacher about their performance relative to defined goals or outcomes. On being given, it redirects either the teacher’s or the learner’s actions in order to stay on track to achieving the goal.

This feedback can be verbal or written, through tests or digital technology. It can come from the teacher, teaching assistants or from peers in the classroom (in the form of peer mentoring).

Done well, feedback has a very high range of effects across all age groups (although conversely, if done badly it can have negative effects). Research-based approaches that give explicit, clear feedback tend to have a positive effect across a whole school. The evidence for this is well substantiated, but at present mostly confined to maths and English.

How Third Space Learning uses feedback in our interventions

Our tutors are trained to give pupils regular, clear and constructive feedback throughout their lessons, always against the stated learning objective of the day and with equal focus given to effort as accuracy.

We also provide feedback to schools in terms of reports on pupils, helping them keep track of how their learning journeys are progressing and where they may still be improving. This can help teachers adapt their own lessons to match the pupils’ changing abilities.

2. Metacognition

pupil premium intervention ideas metacognition

Metacognition – literally, thinking about thinking!

Cost: Low
Impact: +8 months

Metacognition and self-regulation approaches encourage pupils to think about their own learning more explicitly, often with specific strategies for planning and self-evaluation. There is extensive evidence to indicate that this is a strategy that offers high impact for low cost (£80 per pupil).

It can be split into three factors: cognition (the mental progress involved in understanding learning); metacognition (usually defined as ‘learning to learn’) and motivation (a pupil’s willingness to engage with metacognitive and cognitive skills).

The strategies are effective, especially when taught in small groups so that pupils can support one another and develop their thinking through discussion. It’s not easy, but the impact has the potential to be high, especially for low-achieving and older pupils.

A large number of reviews have found positive impacts, although again their findings are mostly confined to English and mathematics, and some science.

How we’ve incorporated metacognition into our online teaching

Our one-to-one maths lessons are geared towards helping pupils work through ‘why’ they are giving a particular answer to a question and how they got to their answer. The essence of our lessons is talking about maths and our tutors are trained to encourage pupils to engage with and think about their learning as they go.

We even ask children at the end of every lesson to tell us what they remember from the lesson. We also work hard to ensure the level of challenge is pitched just at the right level to ensure they are retrieving information from long term memory.


Looking for a maths intervention that incorporates other intervention strategies and makes best use of your Pupil premium funding?

Third Space Learning’s maths interventions have been carefully designed to address pupil’s learning skills as well as their subject skills, making use of a wide variety of strategies for improving learning, including metacognition, feedback etc.

Our lessons are geared towards helping pupils work through ‘why’ they come to the solutions they have, and our tutors are intensively trained to encourage pupils to engage with and think about their learning in this manner – and so become better learners overall.

The end result is a one-to-one intervention programme that, on average, helps pupils make seven months ‘ progress in just 14 weeks; and with over 50% of our pupils being in receipt of Pupil Premium funding, we know a thing or two about effective Pupil Premium strategies.

To find out how we could help your pupils, call 0203 771 0095 or try a free demo today.


3. Reading Comprehension

Cost: Low
Impact +5 months

Another Pupil Premium intervention strategy that extensive evidence proves to deliver high impact for low cost is to encourage the reading comprehension skills that are so vital across all subjects. The training for this type of intervention is around £1,200 per teacher, but can cost as little as £48 per pupil.

Pupils might need to work on their ability to infer meaning, to summarise key points, understand other ways of presenting information such as graphics, to question the text and to be able to monitor their own levels of comprehension.

Good comprehension is a key skill across all ages and approaches designed to improve it have shown to lead to an additional six months’ progress. These approaches can include collaborative learning techniques, improving phonics and using graphic organisers. It’s particularly useful in improving attainment in upper primary and lower secondary, but requires a coordinated effort across the curriculum. 

The evidence for its efficacy comes mostly from the US, but the studies in the UK have shown that although the improvements are not as dramatic, they are particularly seen in pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. As much as six months’ progress can be achieved through effective reading comprehension strategies.

4. Mastery Learning

Cost: Low
Impact: +5 months

Traditionally, teachers have focused on keeping time spent on topics constant, which means that pupils’ ‘mastery’ of such content varies. Mastery learning aims to keep the mastery of the content constant, which in turn means that the amount of time spent on each topic varies.

Pupil Premium interventions based around this philosophy can be implemented for less than £80 per pupil. Subject matter and its content is broken into units with clearly specified objectives. Only then is the appropriate amount of time designated for each unit.

Pupils do not progress to the next unit until they have achieved a high level of success in the one they are working on. Those that do not, receive additional tuition, peer support or other interventions so that they reach the expected level.

Mastery learning is particularly effective when pupils work together in teams or small groups, but making it work is challenging, and often requires high-quality teaching for full effectiveness.

How Third Space makes use of the mastery approach in our online interventions

Our one-to-one tuition follows an approach very similar to mastery learning – maths topics are covered one at a time, and end-of-lesson/start-of-lesson assessments are used to ensure a pupil really has understood one subject before another is started.

Third Space tutors are also trained to exercise adaptability in the pace of each lesson as well as a set of lessons, using students’ previous results and in-lesson responses to modify their teaching speed to what is most effective for that pupil.

5. Collaborative Learning

pupil premium intervention ideas collaborative learning

Cost: Low
Impact: +5 months

This learning approach involves pupils working together in groups small enough for everyone to participate in the task or activity and is a strategy with moderate impact for very low cost (£500 per teacher or £20 per pupil per year) based on extensive reporting over 40 years across all age groups.

However, the size of the impact varies and it is important to recognise that it’s more than pupils sitting together and asking them to work together. The key to a successful intervention appears to be finding approaches that encourage talk and interaction between participants. Tasks need to be carefully structured to avoid the temptation of some pupils to work on their own.

When used effectively it can improve progress by five months.

Filling the gaps that Collaborative Learning can’t

While collaborative learning can be remarkably useful for certain topics, it isn’t always the best course of action. When you’re first teaching pupils a new topic area, or approaching one that’s more complex than they may be used to, collaborative learning can only go so far.

Some pupils will have specific learning needs and struggles, and will need a subject matter expert to really grasp a topic. And while you may be able to spare some time to work with them one-on-one, you can’t guarantee it will be enough.

In this sort of situation, interventions like Third Space’s one-to-one tuition provide a valuable alternative; struggling pupils have someone they can work with closely that can effectively explain a topic to them, and you can spend more time focused on the class as a whole.

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6. Oral Language Interventions

Cost: Low
Impact: +5 months

These emphasise the value of spoken language and verbal interaction in the classroom. It is another valuable low-cost Pupil Premium intervention (around £40 per pupil per year) shown to have improve progress by five months.

Strategies include targeted reading aloud and book discussion with early years pupils, deliberate extending of pupils’ spoken vocabulary and structured questioning to develop reading comprehension.

They’re particularly beneficial when used to promote problem solving and text comprehension. Technology may help but only when used as a medium to encourage collaboration and in turn verbalising of ideas among pupils.

While all pupils benefit from oral language interventions, some evidence suggests that it is particularly effective for younger pupils and pupil premium students.

How we make oral language work a key part of every Third Space Learning lesson

As an online one-to-one maths and SATs intervention, verbal interaction is one of the most important aspects of our lessons. Tutors are extensively trained to engage pupils in spoken discussions of their work, creating a collaborative learning environment that develops maths fluency and greater understanding of more complex topics.

Especially with problem-solving questions, tutors will often ‘walk through’ the problem with their pupil, verbalising it and helping them put it into terms they can better understand – and in this way improving their comprehension skills.

7. Peer Tutoring

Cost: Low
Impact: +5 months

Otherwise known as peer mentoring, this intervention strategy involves pupils working in pairs or small groups to provide each other with teaching support. It can involve older learners taking a tutoring role or when learners alternate between the role of tutor and tutee. It is low cost (as little as £10-20 per pupil) and has been shown to have a moderate impact.

Studies suggest that it has an average positive effect of about five months’ additional progress with benefit for both tutors and tutees. It is most effective when pupils are provided with support to make sure the quality of their interaction is high, for instance through training and feedback. It is best used as a supplement to normal teaching, rather than a replacement.

8. Phonics

Cost: Very Low
Impact: +4 months

Phonics is an approach to teaching pupils reading and some aspects of writing. It’s been found to be effective in helping younger pupils master the basics of reading and since 2012, the phonics screening test has been used to check Year 1 pupils’ understanding of phonics skills.

Embedding good phonics knowledge has been shown to lead to an additional four months’ progress at little extra cost to the schools. It’s particularly useful in helping 4 to 7-year-olds (i.e. Key Stage 1)

As a key part of teaching children to read in primary schools, the evidence for phonics is strong with a large number of studies, reviews and meta-analyses. However, phonics reading programmes for older pupils have proved less successful.

9. Within-Class Attainment Grouping

Cost: Very Low
Impact: +3 months

This is a Pupil Premium intervention with few associated financial costs that can lead to an additional three months’ progress. However, there is less evidence to support any contentions. It is not the same as streaming (where children are consistently separated according to ability) but is organising pupils within their usual class for specific activities or topics.

Pupils with similar levels of attainment might be put on a table together but are taught with the rest of the class with the same teacher. Separate tasks might then be given to the tables according to their attainment levels. It tends to be more commonly used in primary schools.

The evidence for this progress is widespread, however some studies suggest that it has less benefit for lower attaining pupils and may even have a negative effect, for instance by discouraging the belief that they can improve through effort.

Counter-balancing attainment grouping issues

Third Space Learning’s one-to-one interventions provide a strong counter-balancing factor to within-class attainment grouping; as we explained earlier, our tutors are trained to give feedback that prioritises effort as much as achievement.

This helps lower attaining pupils by providing an actual, tangible example of the impact their effort can have to counter any worries that may arise from their attainment group in class.

Moreover enough progress made using our maths intervention may result in that pupil changing attainment groups, providing them with yet more evidence of the importance of putting effort into learning.

10. Individualised Instruction

Cost: Very Low
Impact: +3 months

This Pupil Premium intervention involves tailoring tasks and support for each pupil at an individual level, based on the assumption that they all have different needs. Digital technologies can be particularly useful when implementing this. It has a moderate impact (three months additional progress) for a very low cost, although the evidence is not as extensive for this as in other interventions.

It can have negative effects in making the teacher’s primary role managerial. The EEF therefore suggests that it is used as a supplement to usual class teaching rather than a replacement. It might also be wise to consider small group learning as opposed to individual learning in order to avoid reducing total teaching time.

Third Space Learning: the best ‘individual learning’ supplement

Individual Instruction is of course our bread and butter; our interventions are one-to-one, and we carefully tailor lessons to each pupil through assessment and feedback to ensure they have a learning structure that most benefits them.

Moreover many of the schools working with us use our interventions specifically as supplements to in-class learning, a way to plug gaps and catch students up on content, or else to provide them with a boost ahead of exams like the SATs. We know how hard teachers work, and we’re here to ease some of the pressure from you!

Low-Cost But Ineffective Pupil Premium Interventions

We’ve outlined the most effective low-cost interventions, but there are other strategies that are equally cheap but have been shown to have fewer positive effects.

Learning Styles

The idea behind this theory is that all pupils have particular styles of learning and by identifying this style, effective approaches can be tailored to them. Some, for example, have a ‘listening’ style suited to storytelling.

The issue is that there is limited evidence for a consistent and reliably-identifiable set of learning styles. Young people are constantly evolving and adapting in different situations and it might be dangerous to label them as having a particular way of learning. 

Homework In Primary

This has long been a source of controversy in primary schools, with headteachers observing that parents divide into those that want considerably more homework and those that want none at all. 

While schools in which pupils do a lot of homework tend to be more successful, there is little evidence to suggest that is cause rather than correlation. Any benefits are likely to be when it is used as a short and focussed intervention, and quality rather than quantity is key for pupil progress. 

School Uniform

Many schools enforce uniform in the belief that it supports discipline and motivation. However, there is no robust evidence to support this. Sometimes academic performance and behaviour has improved after the introduction of a uniform, but it’s usually just one factor among many.

Block Scheduling

This approach to school timetabling in secondary schools typically means that pupils have fewer, but longer classes. An example of this is a timetable of four blocks of 90-minute classes per day, covering the same four subjects over a term with students then taking a different set of subjects the following term.

However, evidence of this leading to improvements is very inconsistent. Studies have shown both worse and better results for block scheduling in mathematics and English.

Setting Or Streaming

Another controversial schools policy, these terms describe a variety of approaches whereby pupils with similar levels of attainment are consistently grouped together. Streaming is usually dividing pupils into classes for all or most of their lessons, regardless of the subject being taught.

Setting is the use of groups in a more subject-specific way, for instance for maths. Both strategies aim to enable more efficient teaching by narrowing the range of pupil attainment in a classroom.

And the very worst intervention in terms of both cost and progress? That’s repeating a year which leads to, according to the moderate evidence, a negative impact of minus 4 months’ progress at an extremely high cost of up to £9,000 per year!

So whether you’re a school leader reconsidering your current Pupil Premium spending or looking at how to allocate next year’s funding, keep these intervention ideas in mind as a list of what – and what not – to try.


Read more: 

Anantha Anilkumar
Anantha Anilkumar
Content Editor
As a member of the content team at Third Space Learning, Anantha helps to ensure that teachers everywhere can enjoy the blogs and resources created by the team. Before coming to TSL, Anantha worked as a teacher and a marketing analyst.

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