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Pupil Premium post-COVID – The key challenges and changes

Lauren Powell, IG Schools portfolio lead at Inside Government, surveys the ways in which the pandemic could affect how schools approach their Pupil Premium obligations…

Lauren Powell
by Lauren Powell
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The IG Schools team recently took the time to speak with a number of education leaders and practitioners to better understand the key challenges the sector currently faces with regards to Pupil Premium.

Here are the four main considerations that emerged…

Mental health

A key theme arising from our research was the extent to which respondents were needing to support children and young people’s mental health, and help them cope with the impact of the disruption to their schooling over the past 18 months.

Pupils have had to process the difficulties of learning outside of classroom settings and last year’s exam fiasco, and in many cases, deal with issues relating to anxiety, loneliness and bereavement. Those eligible for Pupil Premium are likely to have suffered more than most.

As such, many school leaders and support staff acknowledged to us the continuing importance of cultivating positive mental wellbeing and emotional resilience over the 2021/22 academic year.

Given the turbulence so many are currently experiencing – not least the local spikes in infection rates at the time of writing – providing young people with a sense of stability was widely considered by our respondents to be of greater priority than focusing on their academic outcomes.

Post-COVID recovery

As schools approach the end of this academic year, their COVID-19 recovery plans are continuing shape how they operate. Accurate measurements of student progress have become more important than ever for their curriculum planning, and particularly so for pupils already experiencing levels of disadvantage.

This won’t have been helped, however, by an increase in the number of pupils defined as disadvantaged over the past year – outside of standard Pupil Premium grantees or looked after children criteria – with the result that preparing and allocating resources for curriculum delivery has become extremely difficult.

Differentiating between levels of progress and subsequent future needs is an important task, but an increasingly complicated one. The likelihood is that recipients of Pupil Premium will have benefited least from online learning during the lockdowns, yet schools must continue adapt and deliver their curriculum for every child.

Scaling up

School leaders are well-versed in allocating per-child funding entitlements for activities that support academic progression, in a way that addresses individual needs. But if the number of children needing that academic support has risen, then they’ll have to consider how said funding can be best used, and determine which interventions will be most effective.

Our research suggests that schools have faced some difficulties with that latter task, and in determining how such activities should be balanced. This has caused some confusion around the level of detail and breakdown required for reporting how Pupil Premium allocations have been spent, and how best to demonstrate the outcomes that have emerged from that spending.

Interventions and staffing

The actual delivery of interventions has also proved challenging, according to our analysis. Support staff, including TAs, have traditionally played key roles in the provision of academic and enrichment activities, but many such staff have seen their duties and responsibilities change significantly since 2020, affecting the type and level of support they’re now able to offer.

Some staff we spoke to highlighted the need for perceptions to change regarding support staff, and Tas in particular. At present, it seems there’s not enough understanding of just how valuable their skills and abilities really are – especially in relation to students in receipt of Pupil Premium.

Lauren Powell is Portfolio Lead at IG Schools, part of the education training and events organiser Inside Government; for more information, visit or follow @InsideGovt.

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