Poverty proofing the school day

Our vision for education is for a ‘One Nation’ education system, where every local school is a good school and where social background is no longer a barrier to academic achievement.


Poverty proofing the school day can be achieved in a number of ways. First, through money to supplement the education of those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds which we have provided through the pupil premium.

In April 2011, the Coalition Government introduced a £625 million pupil premium fund to provide schools with money for every pupil from Reception to year 11 registered for free school meals or who had been in care for 6 months or longer. This was then extended in 2012 to children eligible for free schools meals at any point in the last six years. We know that delivering high academic standards can be more difficult for schools with the challenges of intakes with significant levels of deprivation. But that challenge must never be a barrier. Providing an additional £1300 per primary pupil and £935 per secondary pupil is intended to fund the breaching of that barrier.


Funding for the pupil premium has now reached £2.54 billion and has been extended even further.

How this funding is spent and, more importantly, how it affects the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, is carefully monitored by Ofsted. Children eligible for the pupil premium in primary schools achieved their best results ever this year, and the new attainment gap index shows that the real attainment gap narrowed between 2012 and 2014 at both primary and secondary levels.


But some schools and local authorities are much better at educating disadvantaged children than others. In 2014, the proportion of disadvantaged children in inner London attaining 5 or more good GCSEs including English and maths was twice as high as the lowest performing local authorities (52% -compared to Knowsley at 23.2% and Northumberland at 26.2%).


There are also many good schools that are working hard to close the gap and are succeeding. King Solomon Academy in London, with 63.4% of pupils attracting the pupil premium, reported that 93% achieved 5 or more GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and maths this year.


Charter Academy in Portsmouth is in one of the poorest wards in the country. 62% of the school’s pupils attract the pupil premium. In 2014, 82% of these pupils achieved 5 or more good GCSEs including English and maths – double the national average for pupil premium pupils and 18% higher than the average for non-pupil premium pupils nationally.


The Pupil Premium was designed to help the most disadvantaged in the UK but it has always been clear that more needed to be done to challenge consistently underperforming schools.


The new Education and Adoption Bill will allow us to deal with failing schools by shifting control from councils to those who know how to run excellent schools.


Teachers at academies and free schools have a great deal more freedom to put new ideas into practice because they are protected from the dead hand of local bureaucracy. Head teachers can determine how to reward and so retain the best staff, and teachers can work together to make decisions about the school day or curriculum.


Ambitious teachers can now transform existing schools or establish new ones, thereby transforming their own roles as well as the education of their pupils.


Today, there are a million more pupils in schools rated by Ofsted as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’. Over a thousand schools that were ranked ‘inadequate’ have become Academies, bringing in new leadership to promote discipline, rigour and higher standards. There are over 250 new free schools – set up and run by local people – delivering better education for the children who need it most.


Part of giving schools more autonomy is to give teachers more freedom to teach in the way that evidence suggests works best. The evidence base for a rigorous, knowledge-rich education is growing in the UK.  One of the proponents of this in the US, E D Hirsch, whose work has led to the development of the Core Knowledge Curriculum in the US, writes that there is a compelling social justice case for such a curriculum.


One passage from his book The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them talks about something called ‘The Matthew Effect’ within language acquisition. Matthew Chapter 25 states:

“For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he has shall be taken away”.


Applying this to education, Hirsch explains: “Those children who possess the intellectual capital when they first arrive at school have the mental scaffolding and Velcro to gain still more knowledge. But those children who arrive at school lacking the relevant experience and vocabulary – they see not, neither do they understand”.


Those with large vocabularies before they start school have an accumulative advantage – they know more, so they learn more and the gulf between them and their less advantaged peers only grows wider.


Our reforms therefore, are aimed at providing an equalising educational experience, something that has not been seen in UK education for decades.


Prior to 2010, the number of pupils studying academic subjects had dropped dramatically with only 43% of pupils studying a foreign language, only 31% studying history and only 26% studying geography. Instead pupils were being encouraged towards so called ‘equivalent qualifications’ which exploded in popularity from 15,000 entries in 2004 to 575,000 in 2010. These subjects were disproportionately being studied by pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.


To tackle this, we introduced the English Baccalaureate performance measure, showing the proportion of pupils in a school entering and achieving a good GCSE in English, maths, science, history or geography, and a foreign language. Schools have risen to this challenge. The proportion of pupils entering the EBacc has risen from 23% in 2012 to 39% today, and the percentage achieving it has increased from 16% to 24% over the same period. Last year, almost 90,000 more pupils were entered for the EBacc compared to 2010.


Since its introduction, the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals entering the Ebacc has increased from 7.9% to 21%. This is an increase of 13.1 percentage points.


By providing all pupils, regardless of background, with the tools to succeed we can help eliminate the differences that disadvantage causes and set them all on an equal path.


We’re also learning from around the world about the best approaches to teaching the most disadvantaged children.

According to the PISA tests, 15-year-old pupils in Shanghai are 3 years ahead of their English counterparts in mathematics. Whilst our pupils are in their first year of GCSE, Shanghai pupils are doing A level work. In mathematics, the children of the poorest 30% of Shanghai’s population are outstripping the children of our wealthiest 10% in England.


Our teacher exchanges and the 34 maths hubs around the country are leading to this new evidence-based approach to maths teaching beginning to take hold in some of the best performing primary schools.


Our reforms are working. At age 11, disadvantaged pupils’ attainment in reading, writing and mathematics increased by 6 percentage points to 67% between 2012 and 2014, reducing the gap with their better-off peers by one percentage point. At age 16, between 2011 and 2013 disadvantaged pupils’ attainment of 5 or more A*-C GSCEs including English and maths increased by 4.8 percentage points to 40.9%, reducing the gap by 2 percentage points.


Poverty proofing the school day is not just about providing a pupil premium for the most disadvantaged pupils however important that is. It’s about challenging failing schools that are consistently letting down children to be better. It’s about providing a strong, academic, knowledge-based curriculum that will give all children access to a broad range of opportunities wherever they’ve come from.