Schools could do better with pupil premium, says Ofsted
A significant minority of schools in England are still not spending extra funding for poor pupils effectively, warns an education inspectors' report.
Some schools struggle to show how they use pupil premium payments, aimed at raising the achievements of poor children, an Ofsted study says.
However Ofsted said many schools were using the money better than last year.
"It is vital that schools get this right", said the chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw.
Under the scheme, schools in England are allotted an extra £623 for every child from a low income family, with the aim of bringing their achievements up to the level of their better-off peers.
It is paid to schools for each pupil who is eligible for free school meals or who has been eligible at any point during the previous six years, or for pupils who have been in care for more than six months continuously.
Schools are free to spend the money as they see fit but must be able to show how it is helping children from low income families.
A report by Ofsted last year suggested that the scheme was having little impact on disadvantaged pupils in high numbers of schools.
As a follow-up, inspectors visited a range of nearly 70 schools to see how they were spending the money and found that a growing number were now using it effectively.
"Following my criticism of schools last year, it is clear more schools are now taking their responsibilities seriously when it comes to using the Pupil Premium money and our inspectors have found evidence of some very good practice in their recent visits," said Sir Michael.
"Crucially, many of these good schools are concentrating on the core areas of literacy and numeracy to break down the main barriers to accessing the full curriculum. They are also focusing on the key stages of a child's development in their school career.
"However, some schools still lack good enough systems for tracking the spending of the additional funding or for evaluating the effectiveness of measures they have put in place in terms of improving outcomes."
Sir Michael pledged that Ofsted would continue to take an active interest in the issue in coming months and would criticise when funding was not being spent effectively on improving outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.
The report highlights best practice in the ways that schools manage the money.
It says that schools that manage the cash well are likely to have ring-fenced it, will aim to support disadvantaged pupils to achieve the highest levels and understand that all teaching must meet the needs of each pupil.
They should also analyse the effectiveness of each technique and intervention and adjust the way they spend the money accordingly.
According to the report schools which did less well often showed "a lack of clarity about the intended impact of the spending", did not monitor the effect properly and often spent the cash "indiscriminately on teaching assistants".
Ofsted also said that the money the government makes available for summer schools to help disadvantaged children bridge the gap between primary and secondary education could be better spent on extra maths and English classes once they start secondary school.
The Schools Minister David Laws responded: "If we are to build a fairer society, we have to make sure children can succeed at school whatever their background. The Pupil Premium is a significant amount of money going into schools up and down the country. It is vital that schools use it effectively.
"I am delighted with the good practice shown by many schools, as recognised by Ofsted in their report. But there is still a lot more that can be achieved."
The report drew a mixed response from teaching unions.
Christine Blower of the National Union of Teachers said: "At a time of huge budget cuts, schools... have had to use pupil premium money to plug gaps caused by funding problems."
Ms Blower called on the government "to restore funding and access to resources to schools to ensure that they can provide and meet the needs of all their pupils.
Malcolm Trobe of the Association of School and College Leaders argued that headteachers should continue to have discretion over how the money was spent: "It is essential for schools to have the flexibility to create solutions to suit their own particular circumstances."