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Pupil Premium: A Guide for Primary School Leaders On Closing the Attainment Gap In Your School (2023/2024)

Pupil Premium funding is a key part of a school’s yearly budget – intended to be used (and increasingly monitored to make sure of this) to measurably and positively impact pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

This comprehensive guide provides SLT, governors, and others with information on every aspect of Pupil Premium – what it is, how much is provided per student, and how to make the best use of it. 

What Is Pupil Premium?

Pupil Premium funding is a per-child grant given to around a quarter of all pupils in England in order to reduce the academic attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers. It was introduced by the Department for Education in 2011 in recognition of research showing that children from low-income backgrounds perform less well at school than others. Pupil Premium funding for primary schools in 2023-2024 is £1,455 per year. 

A similar scheme, the Pupil Deprivation Grant, was introduced the following year in Wales. While many poorer pupils are high achievers, statistically there are groups of children that face additional challenges and the Pupil Premium is awarded in recognition that these may impact on their achievements.

For some, this barrier is primarily one of low income, so the funding is given to pupils from poorer households. While all pupils in England and Wales receive Free School Meals (FSM) in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2, in most areas there are qualifications for this benefit in Year 3 and beyond.

These include families where parents receive income support, income-based Jobseekers Allowance and Universal Credit. Any pupil who receives FSM, or has done so in the last six years, qualifies for Pupil Premium funding.

For others, the barrier can come from above-average levels of upheaval, specifically children of those in the armed forces who may have to move more often. A smaller, Service Pupil Premium of £335 is attached to each service child.

While this explains the basics of the Pupil Premium, its uses and applications are as varied as the pupils who are eligible to receive it.

Effective use of the Pupil Premium is now a key focus for Ofsted inspections. To find out more about this, read our blog on the Ofsted Deep Dive.

Primary School Guide to the Pupil Premium

Primary School Guide to the Pupil Premium

Download our free guide to the Pupil Premium for easy access to all the information you could need!

How Much Is Pupil Premium?

For the 2023/24 academic year, Pupil Premium has increased by 5%. It will be £1,455 for every primary pupil and £1,035 for every secondary pupil. The higher rate will be £2,530.

Early Years Pupil Premium 

This additional funding is for pre-school children to improve their education in settings (such as nurseries, schools and childminders) that offer children the free early years entitlement. It is currently set at £353 per child and can be used for interventions such a speech and language therapy. It is given to 3 and 4-year-olds who are living in England and have left care under an adoption order or a special guardianship order, or their parent/carer is in receipt of one of the qualifying benefits (such as Universal Credit or Jobseekers Allowance).

Primary School Pupil Premium

This is currently set at £1,455 for disadvantaged pupils in primary (from Reception to Year 6).

Secondary School Pupil Premium

Schools receive £1,035 for every secondary school pupil eligible for the Pupil Premium.

Tutoring Funding Summary: Downloadable guide for SLT

Tutoring Funding Calculator – see exactly how much funding your school will receive in 2023/24:

What Is Pupil Premium Plus?

Research shows that one group above all others faces particular challenges to educational achievement: children who have either been adopted from a Welsh or English Local Authority Care or who are still in the care system (otherwise known as looked-after or previously looked-after children). This group also includes those pupils who have left care under a Special Guardianship Order or a Child Arrangements Order (previously known as a Residence Order).

They are more likely to suffer disruption to their education as well as to have complex social or emotional needs, alongside other Special Educational Needs. This has a marked effect on their outcomes – for example, in 2017, 32% achieved the expected level of reading, writing and maths at the end of Key Stage 2, in comparison to the national average of 61%.

In an attempt to improve the outcomes of this group, a higher level of funding of £2,530 is attached to these pupils.

The Attainment Gap – Why We Need Pupil Premium

The attainment gap is the difference in academic outcomes between disadvantaged children and those from less impoverished backgrounds. It’s stubbornly persistent and difficult to minimise. In fact, one study indicates that at current rates, it will take 50 years to close. The gap begins in early years and is already evident when children enter Reception.

attainment gaps in england
A simple summary of the various attainment gaps, per research by the EEF.

Of course, disadvantaged pupils aren’t one homogenous low-achieving mass, but all the research shows that across ethnic groups, there’s a correlation between deprivation and lower levels of achievement. Poorer high achievers in primary school are far less likely than their peers to achieve top GSCE grades; on average, they are two years behind their wealthier peers.

There has been progress in primary schools, with the gap in achieving a good Key Stage 2 pass in maths and English forecast to reduce from 24 percentage points to 21.5 by 2021. However, 2019 GSCE results showed that progress in closing the gap has come to a standstill in secondary. For the first time since 2011, it actually widened.

The reasons for this gap are various and cannot be solved by schools alone, but this extra funding is designed to put policies into place to close it by supporting Pupil Premium students in the classroom.

How The Pupil Premium Funding Is Spent Is Key

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has not found a direct correlation between increased school funding and increased pupil attainment, what matters is how schools effectively manage these additional funds.

What’s more, the attainment gap cuts across all types of Ofsted ratings, from the Outstanding schools to those deemed Inadequate. It is an area that Ofsted is increasingly looking at when making its judgments, as we explain below. Equally, a school could be topping performance tables but still have a larger than average gap.

Read more: EEF Tutoring Report and KS2 tutoring

What Can Pupil Premium Be Spent On?

While effective ways of spending Pupil Premium funds vary across the country and the ages of pupils, each school must publish their Pupil Premium strategy statement. The extra money should not go into filling general funding gaps in schools, but should be targeted to make real, measurable improvements to those children in receipt of the funds. Of course, it’s great if they end up helping all pupils but this is not the main goal. All schools have to report on how they have spent the money and to provide evidence of what works.

One great benefit of schools having to report on how they are spending Pupil Premium funding is the sharing of ideas of what has been shown to work. The DFE has even released resources for those working on their pupil premium strategy.  

The best ways that schools have used their funding are imaginative and tailored to the needs of their pupils. It’s not always about an intervention per se. For some, attendance, or lack of it, is the biggest barrier to learning. Some solutions for this include fully funded breakfast clubs, early interventions such as phone calls to parents and carers on the first day of absence, and a system of rewards to encourage school attendance. Even something as simple as giving children an alarm clock can be key to helping them to get to school on time.

pupil premium breakfast club
Creative ideas like school breakfast clubs can help raise attendance, making it easier to close the attainment gap.

Interventions can be less literal than extra maths or spelling sessions. Children in receipt of Pupil Premium are far more likely to have social and emotional difficulties – perhaps as a result of extra caring responsibilities, parents with mental health issues or just the strain that worrying about money causes within homes.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programmes can not only help children deal with these difficulties but can positively influence their academic learning. Strategies to raise children’s self-awareness, self-management and social awareness can be taught in tailored classes or as part of whole-class learning. Games such as charades where children have to guess what feeling is being acted or discussions around story books can help with this.

Pupil Premium And Cultural Capital

One of the areas in which disadvantaged young people can suffer is in what’s known as ‘Cultural Capital’ (a knowledge of the way that society works that can be encouraged by parents with such things as museum visits and discussions at family mealtimes).

To tackle this for example the Brilliant Club is a charity that encourages children from underrepresented groups to attend highly selective universities. While 1 in 4 of the most advantaged quintile goes to a highly selective university, only 1 in 50 of the most disadvantaged quintile does. The Brilliant Club do this through trips to visit institutions, additional lessons and activities, and a mock graduation ceremony.

Other elements of cultural capital can be encouraged through funded Duke of Edinburgh awards or other paid-for residential or language trips.

Some schools recognise that they are only one part of a child’s life and use funds to help parents support their children. This can take the form of increasing parental engagement with workshops to help literacy or IT skills or contract-style pages to involve parents in conversations about education.

Pupil Premium Best Practice

All the research suggests that it’s not how much additional funding a school gets but how it’s used. Effective use of Pupil Premium can be difficult to measure, with some interventions leading to immediate effects, while others have a longer-term, more subjective outcome.

It’s not just about interventions. The most effective pupil premium strategies includes both high-cost and highly targeted interventions to low-cost but similarly successful solutions.

Worst practice, everyone agrees, is to use it to plug the gaps in school funding more generally, which is why Pupil Premium spending has to be transparent and targeted. 

Schools that successfully utilised the additional funding were good at collecting data on both groups and individuals and monitoring these results over time. The impact of any current intervention strategies was monitored and those that were not working, are adapted or replaced.

Heads and teachers were also effective in identifying the main barriers to learning in disadvantaged children and quick to intervene when progress stalled. They were also able to use existing evidence to judge the effectiveness of different strategies and train the staff to use them as well as ensuring that governors understood the Pupil Premium.

Above all else, quality first teaching is key.

pupil premium high quality teaching
High quality teaching is one of the most important factors in closing the attainment gap.

One to one interventions are still the most effective way to close the attainment gap in maths 

Third Space Learning’s maths and KS2 SATs interventions are delivered online for maximum cost-effectiveness for schools using their pupil premium budget. The majority of pupils on the intervention are in receipt of pupil premium and on average pupils make seven months’ progress in just 14 weeks – double expected progress with schoolwork alone.

After a Maths Level Test to assess pupils’ specific needs and personalise lessons to them, each pupil receives weekly one to one lessons, with follow up weekly and termly reports for the class teacher, SLT and governors so you can track impact.

question slide
Example of a Third Space Learning Year 6 online lesson slide

The Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), a charity working with the social-mobility charity The Sutton Trust to raise attainment for those from low-income families, calls good teaching ‘the most important lever schools have to improve outcomes for disadvantaged pupils’.

Of course, achieving this is challenging. But with support from senior leaders, specific courses and other forms of continuous professional development and encouragement, all teachers can improve. 

Other than good teaching, the EEF toolkit is the best source of knowledge for the interventions and strategies that work as they are ranked by cost and effectiveness (as well as how robust the trial to prove efficacy is).

Successful Pupil Premium Strategies

Some of the general Pupil Premium strategies already being put into place include analysing Pupil Premium learners in order to gather information about the ways they like to learn and what their interests might be, in order to marry what goes on in the classroom with what goes on outside.

Teachers need to know who their pupils are so that thought can be given as to where they sit and who they sit next to. In general, pupils respond better to positive behaviour policies so thought should be given to the carrot rather than the stick. Think about any practical barriers to learning – be it not having enough breakfast or not having the right equipment.

In short, successful pupil premium strategies can reflect high-quality teaching more generally. Understanding the learning habits and behaviours of all pupils makes for better teaching, but evidence suggests that those from disadvantaged backgrounds are even more reliant on good teaching to achieve academically. 

As Ofsted continue to increase their scrutiny around whether schools are making good use of their Pupil Premium grants, knowing which strategies are viable and which are becoming ineffective becomes more and more important.

To find out more, read 45 Pupil Premium Strategies For Cost-Effective Impact at Primary School.

Low Cost Pupil Premium Intervention Ideas

The best low-cost learning interventions that every primary can use as well as revealing the ones that have been shown to have little or even a negative effect.

Here are the top 10 in terms of effectiveness and value for money

1. Feedback
2. Metacognition
3. Reading Comprehension
4. Mastery-based Learning
5. Collaborative Learning
6. Oral Language Interventions
7. Peer Tutoring
8. Phonics
9. Within-class Attainment Grouping
10. Individualised Instructions

Read Ten Low-Cost Pupil Premium Intervention Ideas to get the full details, as well as what to avoid.

Education Endowment Fund Pupil Premium Report

The Education Endowment Foundation have collated their findings about effective use of Pupil Premium funding into a report published in 2019.

The report finds cause for optimism in the fact that the attainment gap in both primary and secondary schools has closed since the introduction of the Pupil Premium, both due to the extra funding, but also the additional focus that the policy has brought to disadvantaged students. They identify a few key areas that make the difference.

  1. Schools can make a difference: the pupil premium IS having an impact
  2. Evidence helps: compare similar schools, understand the alternatives, consider cost/reward
  3. Quality teaching helps every child: do not create an artificial separation to whole class teaching.
  4. Implementation matters: less is more, just do it well!
  5. Support middle and high attainers too: disadvantage is not only low attainment.

Good teaching is the most important lever schools have to improve outcomes for disadvantaged pupils” EEF Pupil Premium Report

See also: Tutoring Disadvantaged Students

The EEF recommends a tiered approach to Pupil Premium Spending, using teaching, backed up by targeted academic support and wider non-academic strategies.

EEF Report On Maths

The EEF also produced a report Improving Mathematics in Key Stages 2 & 3 which we’ve looked at and summarised here: 8 Ways To Close The Mathematics Gap At Primary

These can be summarised as eight key points.

  1. Use assessment to build on pupils’ existing knowledge and understanding
  2. Use manipulatives and representations
  3. Teach strategies for solving problems
  4. Enable pupils to develop a rich network of mathematical knowledge
  5. Develop pupils’ independence and motivation
  6. Use tasks and resources to challenge and support pupils’ mathematics
  7. Use structured interventions to provide additional support
  8. Support pupils to make a successful transition between Primary and Secondary school

Ofsted & Pupil Premium

The attainment gap exists in all schools, whether Ofsted Outstanding or Inadequate. The watchdog recognises this and is including effective use of Pupil Premium as part of its accountability process. In other words, schools will be judged by inspectors on the evidence that they can show to prove that disadvantage pupils are progressing. 

Ofsted will be looking for high awareness of the Pupil Premium fund from both school leaders and governors. This awareness should be backed by regular data collection and analysis to show how the money is spent and what impact it is having on pupils’ outcomes – though inspectors will not ask for an itemised list of pupil premium spending from schools. 

A fantastic example of breaking down Pupil Premium spending, from St Eanswythes Primary School, Kent.

A particular concern of Ofsted is that schools should not lump all eligible pupils into one group of low achievers. They will be looking for evidence that the varying needs of the eligible pupils are taken into account, be they high, middle or low-achieving. Any school that shows low expectations for their disadvantaged pupils will be negatively judged.

More information is available in the following articles Ofsted & Pupil Premium Accountability, New Ofsted EIF Framework And What It Means For School Leaders, Ofsted Deep Dives: SLT Guide

Pupil Premium Awards

In 2011, soon after the introduction of the funding policy, the DFE established the Pupil Premium Awards, an annual ceremony recognising schools that have demonstrated the most effective use of the funding for their eligible pupils. 

Our article Pupil Premium Awards: What a Winning School Looks Like reveals the secrets of Pakeman Primary – one of the award-winning schools – and how they make the funding work for their pupils.

Further Reading

Do you have pupils who need extra support in maths?
Every week Third Space Learning’s maths specialist tutors support thousands of pupils across hundreds of schools with weekly online 1-to-1 lessons and maths interventions designed to address learning gaps and boost progress.

Since 2013 we’ve helped over 150,000 primary and secondary school pupils become more confident, able mathematicians. Learn more or request a personalised quote for your school to speak to us about your school’s needs and how we can help.

Subsidised one to one maths tutoring from the UK’s most affordable DfE-approved one to one tutoring provider.

Anantha Anilkumar
Anantha Anilkumar
Content Editor
Anantha trained as a teacher before becoming an editor for Third Space Learning. He also has experience as a market analyst which proved very useful in writing about Ofsted and the pupil premium.
Primary School Guide to the Pupil Premium

Primary School Guide to the Pupil Premium

Download our free guide to the Pupil Premium for easy access to all the information you could need!

Download Now!

Primary School Guide to the Pupil Premium

Downloadable resource

Download our free guide to the Pupil Premium for easy access to all the information you could need!

Download Now!

The Ultimate Guide to Effective Maths Interventions [FREE]

Find out how to plan, manage, and teach one to one (and small group) maths interventions in primary and secondary schools.

Includes a 20 point checklist of techniques to improve your one to one teaching.

Download free