I just don’t get it.

Now, if you follow my blog posts/tweets then you will know that I have written a lot of about Pupil Premium (PP) students and about the plight of ensuring this diverse sub group of students achieve just as well their peers.

I have asked many people what they are doing, what strategies they are implementing and what ways they are addressing the imbalance in outcomes. I have read a substantial amount of impact reports, visited the Pupil Premium awards website, and studied all of the governmental reports/documents. I have also written a 10 point plan to make a difference.

But, I still don’t get it…

If we think about outcomes in terms of attainment; simply whether students have achieved what society deem as the minimal benchmark then these are the figures: (I wrote about my thoughts on this for the TES here.)

5 A* – C incl. En & Ma 2013 2014 2015
All students National Average 60% 56% 57%
Pupil Premium National Average 41% 36% 36%

Therefore, around 6 out of 10 students achieve 5 GCSEs grades A*-C  including English and Maths. This is compared to only around 4 out of 10 students if they are pupil premium. If I reworded that statistic to state approximately 6 out 10 PP students do not attain this benchmark, would that make it more worrying?

However, if we think about outcomes in terms of achievement and focus on progress alone then these are the figures, for the two main? core subjects:

Progress National Averages- All Students 2013 2014 2015
English 69% 70% 70%
Maths 70% 65% 67%
Progress National Averages- Pupil Premium Students
English 57% 59% 59%
Maths 54% 48% 50%

Therefore, if we assume some Pupil Premium students academic ability will prevent them from achieving A*-C grades in those GCSE subjects, because the gap has already widened substantially, we would all agree that they should still make progress from when they start secondary school to when they finish at the same rates as others. (Unless they have a specific developmental issue/need.) However, the national averages show there is around 10% difference in progress in English for PP students and around 15% in Maths.

So it is fair to say that if you are a PP student when you take your GCSE examinations you will attain and achieve a lower grade and at a slower rate on average compared to your counterparts who do not have this label. All because you are poorer than them? Is that too simplistic?

So, what do I get?

  • I get that there is lots of research (EEF Toolkit), out there that suggests what we can put in place to help support these students to advantage them
  • I get that being a PP student doesn’t automatically mean you underperform and that you have a behavioural problem or indeed SEND, however, ‘Pupils with SEN are more than twice as likely to be eligible for free school meals than those without SEN (28.2% compared to 12.8%).’
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  • I get that there are some schools out there whose PP students performance is particularly strong and are doing amazing things. (Here are a list of schools that received letters of congratulations from the DfE.)
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  • I get that the additional funding provided by the Government has now totalled to over £2.5 billion pounds, but where would we be without it? The National Audit Office has said there is still work to be done; Ofsted, says, following school visits between September and December 2014, it found “poor provision” for disadvantaged pupils in 8% of primary schools and 21% of secondary schools.

I also get that the ethos of the school is paramount to the performance of all their students but essentially if we can get the students to come to school every day, ensure we and parents believe in them and demand teaching is to the highest quality then they will all do particularly well.

So, why then do so many students not do well?

Is it because we do not expect them to arrive to school on time, every day?

Is it because we do not have high enough expectations of them?

Or is it that the teaching just is not good enough?

Now, I know that none of those three points is true for my school, we work our socks off to get students in and on time. We work extremely closely with parents to allow them to understand the importance of school. The parents are crucial here. Did they have a bad experience of school? Do they know how much they childs potential is worth? Are they prepared to sacrifice more of their lives for their children? Despite this the PP students attendance is substantially lower overall than non PP.

Why? Why are they not coming to school? How can we overcome the barriers they are facing? Short term; provide pick ups, calls to wake students up, alarm clocks, bus passes. Longer term; show the importance of coming to school? Understanding the damage of missing school. I am working on enabling students to understand what an attendance percentage actually means?

We also endlessly build relationships and encourage our students to pursue the path to enlightenment so to speak. We have a hugely supportive pastoral team. Their jobs are to support the teachers in ensuring they can teach and that the students can learn. They should know every single student in their care. This should be coupled with time with tutors, every day. Tutors should become that adult link, the adult hub/keyworker for each and every child. The pastoral teams should know all there is to know about each and every child.

And, we most definitely believe in high quality, effective teaching practice. We share, collaborate, support and talk to one another about teaching and learning. Regularly, and often. We have twilight sessions, whole school CPD, we also allow staff to go out and visit a school of their choice, once a year too. Not to mention, ungraded lesson observations and the use of IRIS.

So, then why are the PP students not doing better? Why is it, just them, just those with this label not performing as well as the others.

Now, we need to break the label down further, is it, boys, girls, asian, black, white or something else? I can tell you, for us, and nationally, it is white working-class boys who under perform the most. Our BME students achieve above national averages. Our EAL students achieve particularly highly.


…’typical explanations of why white working-class pupils in particular underachieve usually point to uninvolved parenting, the effects of poverty, low literacy, low aspiration, post-industrial generational unemployment, and the relative absence of targeted support.’ Ref.

So, do we simply give up? Or do we address all of these external factors? Do we think oh well, there are many issues outside of our hands, outside of our power and influence.

Obviously, no.

Without a shadow of doubt we continue to persevere. That is why we are here. To make a difference, to install a change. However, it gets extremely heart breaking to think sometimes all we do can be broken, written off and almost destroyed by factors outside our zone of control. However, this advert below by the amazing Princes Trust, this one short clip is what keeps me going.

I know all these students. I teach all these students. I am a teacher for all these students.

We all are?

So… What I don’t get is, how to really make a difference for these students. I know external agencies are stretched, over worked and under funded. So, what can I do? What can I expect my already extremely hard working colleagues to do more of? Less of? They are trying their very best.

What I hope they can do, is smile, smile more and make school the best possible place for these students. Make it safe to attend because they will do here what they didnt think they should. I say should because, sometimes the biggest barrier is the feeling of not fitting in. I do not belong there. I am not expected to go to those kind of places. I have lived parts of my life thinking that too. Working in Oxford creates this divide probably more for our young people. Oxford University on their door steps, high rise buildings on the outskirts of town, bus routes sewn into the edges. So, how do we ensure these young people know they can fit in, they should fit in and will fit in?

I sometimes become that member of SLT that people disagree with, the person who occasionally makes excuses up for some of these students, justifies their actions and treats them differently. I am not ashamed to admit it. But, I do not lower what I think they should do as young people, young adults, as members of our school community. I just understand things, a lit bit, more? I do not create a situation where I have to pick the student or teacher. I hope I don’t anyway.

I also don’t want to get desensitised to their problems, to their issues, I don’t want it to just turn to figures. I want them to still cause a sharp pain inside me when I hear about their difficulties, because it is that pain that will help me carry on.

We all have that button, you know the one. You know it? The one where our mind, heart and soul says…

I wish I could take this kid/child/young person home and treat them with love and care and support. The emotions and feelings that every human deserves.

So, I will be honest, I don’t get it when school teachers, leaders, consultants tell me that it is about the best quality teaching and learning that will make the most difference to these young people. I don’t think it is about them learning in the most effective method.

I think it is about feeling valued, cared for and trusted. Actually wait, maybe that is it; teaching students in the most effective way whilst ensuring they are valued, cared for and trusted is the best way.

Wait, I get it.






  1. Thanks for this post Amjad. I think parental engagement is the key and being a little involved with EYFS / KS1 in the last two years has reinforced this view. Parental support is so important to progress. Simple things like listening to children read makes a huge difference. Whatever the experience children have had before they come to us, you are absolutely right, we have to care. I think part of the problem is teachers feel so pressured to deliver content, meet targets, etc, that they can sometimes be afraid to take the time.

    • The question of parental support for pupils in school is one that I have been questioning lately. My granddaughter is bilingual; Japanese/English. I see the daily struggle my daughter-in-law has to understand the English education system. The fundamental beliefs of the Japanese culture are very different and although she is an intelligent woman who has passed all her ‘what it means to be English’ tests there is much of the system she finds difficult to comprehend! Having been a teacher myself for many years I realise in hindsight I probably did not communicate well enough with some bilingual parents. My daughter in law speaks English very well but finds reading more tricky so, for example, cannot access the school newsletter with its dense text and many acronyms or the comments made in her daughter’s reading record and in fact never puts comments herself in the reading record for fear she will spell or use a word incorrectly which she feels would make her look stupid to the teacher. The school she attends is a good, inclusive school with great staff but I now see how easy it is to think parents are not willing to support their child when the reality is they really don’t know how the system works.

  2. I so believe in your concluding sentiments Amjad. Teachers who are valued, cared for and trusted better support their pupils to feel valued, cared for and trusted and this is the key to student success. I have been privileged to work in schools where this was the norm but know too many teachers who themselves do not feel this.

  3. The comment that I was going to make is that one of the consistent statistical findings of the last and this century, is that there is a correlation between attainment and the socio-economic status of the BIOLOGICAL parents. That is to say there is a genetic factor that is ignored, which links together academic attainment and economic success, but not in the way that is generally presumed. It’s an important consideration when discussing populations and accountability because we can not be held accountable for outcomes which are not directly the result of our teaching. Of course, when discussing individuals, we don’t generalise from populations because it doesn’t work that way.

    What is questionable, however, is our obsession with attainment anyway. If we could refocus on what is considered a quality education and how we go about getting or giving that, and stop using spurious measures to beat up teachers, I think we might do some good.


  4. It’s a case of nature and nurture, genes and environment, and I think it’s a case of one of societies biggest issues that falls into the laps of teachers to try and fix. The single biggest influence in a childs life is what happens at home. If they are the children of vunerable adults, some with life time unemployment this is what they see as the product of education. Why would they value it? The people giving them advice are quite often the polar opposite to the most important adults in their lives.The same process can be seen at the other end of the spectrum; like those boys from Eton that arranged a meeting with Vladimir Putin , or the fact the Eton breeds priministers, or in the BBC documentary about Harrow. Those boys are born into privilidge, where success, leadership and entitlement are the norm. Narrowing the gap isn’t about T&L it’s about getting the PP kids to believe they are the same as a boy going to Eton.

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