Time to revise and refine your Pupil Premium Strategy for 2023-24

Time to revise and refine your Pupil Premium Strategy for 2023-24

This is a short blog on updating Pupil Premium strategy documents. 


You will need to have updated your Pupil Premium Strategy statement for the 2023/24 academic year by the end of December 2023 and published it on your website.  It is a requirement of the conditions of grant to publish an updated strategy statement annually and the DfE will perform monitoring checks on a sample of schools’ published statements.  Ofsted inspectors will look at your school’s Pipil Premium Strategy statement on your website to help them prepare for their visit. 

You must use the DfE’s template to publish your strategy statement. The template, along with the sample statements to help you fill it out are on the DfE website.  The EEF has also published a guide to using pupil premium effectively which complements this document.  The DfE template has a five step approach to produce the strategy: 1. Identifying the challenges faced by the school’s disadvantaged pupils; 2. Using evidence to support your strategy; 3. Developing your strategy; 4. Implementing your strategy; and 5. Evaluating and sustaining your strategy.

Actions required

Assuming that you already have a three-year strategy document there is no requirement to produce a brand new document each year rather you should review and renew your strategy annually.  As a minimum, note on the template that you are in the second or third year of the strategy and make alterations to any contextual information and premium allocations for this academic year, pupil premium carried forward from previous years and total budget.  There may also be some limited changes to Part A: Pupil premium strategy plan as deemed necessary.

What is required annually is the completion of Part B: Review of outcomes in the previous academic year.  You must evaluate the progress being made towards achieving the long term strategy success criteria.   Often when I start working with a school, I find that they have previously written part B focusing purely on the outcomes of the current year and where these are ‘not good’ are very anxious.  However, the DfE intention is to review within the full trajectory of the strategy.  Improvement is not always feasible in 12-months but can be in 24-months.  It is important to articulate each year as part of the whole. It provides the opportunity for you to recognise a job well-done and to highlight areas that may need more attention.   The illustration below shows how useful it is rto eview as part of the 3-year strategy.

Intended outcome for 2024/25 – the endpoint of the 3-year strategyActual 2022/23 
The overall absence rate for all pupils being no more than 4% and there will be no gap in attendance for our disadvantaged pupils. The percentage of all pupils who are persistently absent being below 5% and the figure among disadvantaged pupils being no lower than their peers.Our overall attendance in 2022/23 was lower than in the preceding 4 years at 93.96% and well below the national target of 95% and the schools’ own target of 96%. We have reversed the gap between PP, 93.99%, and NPP, 93.93%, for overall attendance and the gap between PP 16.47% and NPP 16.39% persistent absenteeism has also significantly reduced when compared with the year 21/22.  Attendance for all our pupils needs to significantly improve which is why whole school attendance and persistence absenteeism remains a focus of this current plan and features on our school improvement plan for 23-24. 

What if you want to revise more significantly, maybe it’s time to celebrate, calibrate and change?

This can be an exciting opportunity, a way of making the strategy a better fit for your school and ensuring you are utilising the grant and improving the attainment of our disadvantaged pupils in the most effective way for the next 3 years.  The Pupil Premium Strategy should be organic, allowing for responses to school developments. 

The important thing throughout the change process is to focus on the controllable – the issues that are within the school’s reach.

Seven key points to consider when writing:

Know your purpose – a plan to reach an objective and not the means of getting there

It is easy to fall into the trap of going too deep and writing an implementation plan rather than a strategy.   They go hand-in-hand but there are key differences between the two:

  • A Pupil Premium Strategy document offers a top-level overview over the next three years. It will break-down how you are going to achieve your school’s vision or intent statement.
  • A Pupil Premium Implementation document on the other hand will outline how you will achieve parts of that strategy. It will include specific actions and active ingredients which will be closely adopted to meet your medium-term objectives and will keep you on track for achieving your long-term strategy. There will be a further blog shortly which tackles effective implementation.

Be honest about capacity

Some schools have taken a ​‘kitchen sink’ approach to the number of activities they plan to implement. Their aspirations are unquestionable, but pragmatically such quantity not likely to be as effective.  Ask yourself is there:

  • sufficient time and resource to monitor and evaluate the number of activities to effectively evaluate their impact; or
  • sufficient time in the school’s CPD calendar avoiding shallow CPD or where disadvantage is the tag on.

Think pace and rhythm

You will likely have a range of activities to respond to your challenges.  They will be evidence informed. Some will be smaller, quick wins and others will be bigger tasks that require more work and will take longer to embed.  Staggering activities will ensure staff are not overwhelmed.  Roll-out big initiatives gradually. Schools find this really tricky when improvement is so important to his vulnerable group. But give yourself enough time to implement each new initiative and evaluate.  You will get better buy-in and more sustainable impact.  People will understand what they are aiming for.  A template plan might involve:

  • Year one: Choose your new system and run a pilot in one key stage or year group.
  • Year two: Review what worked and improve your approach.
  • Year three: Roll-out across the school.
  • Year four: Review what worked across the whole school and improve your approach.

Write clear objectives and actions

To write-up your plan, you will need to turn your priorities into clear written objectives that give a short overview of what you want to do. Your objectives will need to be quite high-level. You are not trying to write an implementation plan at this stage, so these objectives might still feel quite big, but that is okay, as you will use the latter to break them down further into specific objectives and actions.  Make sure the objectives give a clear idea of what you want to achieve and that the targets are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound then they can be accountable.

Check the wording

The Pupil Premium Strategy document is a public facing document on your school’s website – fully accessible to all. The wording of the document needs to be cautious and deliberate.  For example, it is easy to write the challenges using ‘negative’ language e.g., Poor parental engagement or low aspirations.  These are very real challenges that schools face, but they could be re-phrased and still accurate, for example,  ‘support parents to engage more positively with learning’.  It is important to avoid framing disadvantage as a deficit model.  Primarily keep the focus on the learning and ensure efforts to address challenges are focused and precise.  

I sometimes find schools using vague success criteria like ​‘improve teaching’, ​‘improve engagement’ or ​‘improve attainment’ because it is the strategy document, and they don’t want to be too operational.  The intent is there but strategy doesn’t mean vague.  Well defined criteria will be easier to monitor. Consider instead ‘KS2 maths outcomes to show that more than 85% of disadvantaged pupils met the expected standard’.

Use assessment not assumptions to agree activities

Poorly identified challenges lead to poorly identified activity, leading to weaker outcomes for pupils and sometimes initiative fatigue.  The DfE and EEF’s guidance suggests focussing a greater proportion of activities in high-quality teaching.  Providing students access to a high-quality education begins first and foremost with experiencing an effective teacher in every classroom.

The difference between a very effective teacher and a poorly performing teacher is large. For example, during one year with a very effective maths teacher, pupils gain 40% more in their learning than they would with a poorly performing maths teacher.  The effects of high-quality teaching are especially significant for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds: over a school year, these pupils gain 1.5 years’ worth of learning with very effective teachers, compared with 0.5 years with poorly performing teachers. In other words, for poor pupils the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher is a whole year’s learning. (Sutton Trust, 2011)

Plan the evaluation in to the strategy from the start

Evaluation should be viewed as an ongoing process to support teaching and learning.  Marc Rowland talks about using multiple Inadequate glances – looking at learning from multiple angles, and multiple times, before we develop a conclusion and decide on the next steps.  When working with schools too often pre and post testing data is used but sometimes this can tell us what we want to see.  Similarly writing case studies after the activity ends as proof that it worked is not best practice.  Or being overly reliant on the reactions of those delivering the approach.

Four ways we can help you.

1. Conduct a Pupil Premium Review

A pupil premium review looks at how your school is spending its pupil premium funding so that you spend the grant on approaches shown to be effective in improving the achievement of disadvantaged pupils fit for your context.

2. Support leaders to write the Pupil Premium Strategy

Facilitating a strategic writing session enables leaders to work together, supported by an expert, to write their school’s strategy document.  The final document will communicate effectively to internal and external stakeholders, including families, advisers and inspectors.

3. Provide strategic support during implementation

We will help you with various aspects of the implementation process, such as moving from strategic to operational planning, creating timelines, identifying active ingredients, monitoring progress, providing training, evaluating results, and adjusting.

4. Plan an expert evaluation

We will support you to put in place a robust evaluation framework at the start of the implementation phase which will enable a rigorous, dispassionate impact evaluation.  This will allow you to understand whether strategies are 

Improving schools inside out

Getting the ‘what’ and how right of school improvement is fundamental to developing and continually improving schools.

Getting the ‘what’ and how right of school improvement is fundamental to developing and continually improving schools. Schools have priorities to deliver. The ‘what’ possibly to secure an inclusive behaviour system, to build an engaging and rigorous curriculum or to establish excellent teaching from well-qualified, well-trained and motivated staff. 

But is a ‘what’ driven strategy the best way to lead improvement or just the received wisdom we perpetuate.

Let’s take a school that wants to develop pupil’s academic language skills. They are research-led and decided what to do based on guidance from the EEF. Their ‘what’ is sound – deliver targeted vocabulary instruction in every subject, provide pupils with a rich oral and written language environment and improve the reading infrastructure. Their ‘how’ involves providing training on explicit vocabulary instruction and support for teachers to understand academic language, prioritising teaching Tier 2 and 3 vocabulary and curriculum planning.  The school does improve the use of academic vocabulary in some parts of the school but there is significant and stubborn variation.  When you talk to staff, for some the work is transactional – a ‘drop and drag what’ which will be superseded shortly not embedded.  Staff have not bought into ‘why’ and focused on outcomes not identity.  

“If the teacher makes the weather, the school creates the climate (the ‘why’). School improvement is how schools create an ever-better climate for sustainable impact” (Brighouse, 2015).

So how do you start with the ‘why’ first? 

Leadership expert Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model called the Golden Circle. Instead of putting ‘what’ you do at the core, you start with ‘why’ and work inside out

He argues successful people and organisations think inside out. I recommend watching his excellent TEDtalk: Start with why – how great leaders inspire action

He explains, if we think, act and communicate from the outside in, we go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing. This impairs our ability to make decisions and be effective. Inspired leaders all think, act and communicate from the inside out

His model Golden Circle exploits knowledge from neuroscience. If you look at a cross-section of the human brain, from the top down, the human brain is actually broken into three major components that correlate perfectly with Sinek’s Golden Circle. Our neocortex corresponds with the “what” level. It is responsible for all of our rational and analytical thought and language. The middle section is our limbic brain, and that’s where all of our feelings, like trust and loyalty derive. Finally, what he terms are reptilian brain responsible for all behaviour, all decision-making; everything we become. So, working from the ‘what’ in doesn’t drive behaviour it is concerned solely with results.

Instead in the schools I work with that think culture and who we want to become they aim for the part of the brain that controls behaviour, and then allowing people to rationalise it with the tangible things we say and do

‘People do not buy what you do, they buy into why you do it’ 

Sinek 2019
Sinek’s Golden Circle and the human brain:

Perhaps we should be more upfront with ‘why we are doing this’ factor and be unapologetic about returning and returning and returning to it again. After all it is the school’s intrinsic motivation and self-image of who they want to become.  In part a simplistic view of accountability is to blame.

The ‘why’ is probably the most important message a school can communicate – it is what inspires others to action.

Currently, securing a ‘why’ is often rushed and surface, confused with vision or assumed to be known ‘… as a teacher at this school we all know why we are doing this… right’.

Talking with new headteachers they all agree the ‘why’ is too easily trumped by the necessity to get the job done.  With this new knowledge they all agree this is mistaken and short-sighted.

“When staff are pushing against the limits of time, space, resources, and their own personal limitations – they need to know and recognise the ‘why’.”
“The most important thing we did was investing time in building alignment of staff around the intended school culture creates a shared language, high expectations and coherence … direction and purpose to the staff’s work teaching pupils.”

It doesn’t have to be all about the ‘what’. Schools are creative and passionate places where the lives of children and young people matter. Agreeing the ‘why’ is powerful.  The intention is not to trump the important ‘what’, far from it.  Keeping the priorities and the shared understanding of the ‘why’ intact will enable us to keep ‘the main thing the main thing’.

In conclusion, understanding the ‘why’ is essential for school improvement, and it sets the stage for deep and sustainable progress. A collective and shared understanding of the ‘why’ can help everyone stay on the same page, collaborate and communicate effectively, and work together as a team towards achieving common priorities. 

Fritz writes, when the ‘why’ is “truly shared, we participate in it because we care about it, and we will support it through our participation.”  

Knowing the ‘why’ is both an entitlement and necessity. A deep held sense of the ‘why’ creates behavioural coherence across the school and gives direction and purpose to the staff’s work teaching pupils. 

As school leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure we know the ‘why’ of our priorities, communicate them effectively, and make collective progress towards.

If instructional coaching is the right choice, why isn’t it working?

Getting professional development right matters.  We know pupils gain 1.5 years’ worth of learning with very effective teachers, compared with 0.5 years with poorly performing teachers and the impact is most striking for disadvantaged children and young people.  And, at a school level, variation within a school needs to be removed to ensure effective practice becomes consistently the everyday experience for all pupils and teachers. 

Instructional coaching is claimed to be one of the most highly effective forms of CPD to we currently have in education and the evidence base is good. It combines granular goals, targeted feedback and rehearsal. This means that it contains many of the mechanisms identified as being central to effective professional development (EEF, 2021), supporting it to have an impact on classroom teaching and pupil attainment (Gregory et al. 2017).  

“Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough but because they can be even better” (Dylan Williams).  Instructional coaching improves both instructional practice and student achievement more so than other professional development and school-based interventions.

Instructional coaching can be for all career stages because it is responsive and can be successfully structured to systematically match teachers and leaders with the form of coaching that best suits their needs be it directive, less directive or dialogical. The primary difference is the domain-specific knowledge they have, and the way that that knowledge is organised into mental models. What is pivotal is the resourcing to avoid cognitive overload of novices and demotivation of experts who can face more complex learning problems before cognitive overload is reached.

In very many settings it is working well but there are exceptions and it is worth trouble shooting.  Why? 

Potential Challenges

I have observed well-intentioned instructional coaching programmes struggle to gain traction almost immediately upon implementation. And it would be wrong to rely on instructional coaching as a silver bullet to solve all problems related to teaching.  Challenges include:

Time constraints

For instructional coaching to really work, understanding how much time is needed to move practice is critical. Are there enough cycles to be impactful for every teacher? Or is it being determined by cover implications and inclusivity?  Can there really be a fixed entitlement?

Confusing instructional coaching with a competence support plan 

It is really important that instructional coaching is disaggregated from support plans for staff  identified for support. Clarity of purpose and engagement is key.

Matching coaches and teachers

Pairing teachers with the “right” coach is critically important. While it might be easy to pair a few new teachers with the right coach, scaling coaching programs across multiple role/experience levels and content areas can be challenging. For coaching to be most effective, it must not only focus on more general teaching strategies, but also teaching and assessment in curriculum areas. Thus, pairing teachers with a coach who knows the content is important. It is not as simple as training up your best teachers.

Career stage

Some schools question whether it is appropriate for the most experienced teachers.  The misnomer with ‘appropriateness’ across all career stages arises from mistaking the amount of time a teacher has spent in the classroom with their expertise.  Teachers and leaders may have been qualified longer but not necessarily be more knowledgeable or skilled as a result.   Equally, roles and responsibilities change overtime requiring new domain specific knowledge to be learned to become experts.  Even within a role, expertise is unlikely to be uniform across domains  (Lovell, 2021).  Instructional coaching is highly appropriate for all to push their boundaries, set goals and targets for development, apply learning in practice, give and receive feedback – being able to review and clearly articulate the shift and change since starting, to understand what they have achieved and the difference this has made to them as teachers (Deans for Impact, 2016).  

Scaling while maintaining quality

It’s one thing to have a few great coaches support a handful of teachers. It’s a completely different endeavour to scale a coaching program across a school. Scaling any initiative in schools requires thoughtful and deliberate planning and structures that not only ensure consistency but provide for feedback on the quality of coaching.

Solutions that work

While there is no one way to ensure the perfect instructional coaching process, there are some key actions I recommend leaders take to set coaching up to be more successful. When schools pay attention to the following, they are likely to see coaching that results in better teaching practice.

Develop a tiered system of coaching

Inverse proportion to success is not a new model but giving it a name is helpful.  Each time the model is used it based on the assessment of one element of teaching only –teachers’ coaching needs will vary because their teaching knowledge may differ across different elements of teaching.  This is a dynamic model:

Those in the highest need level require the greatest amount of support and time.  But this is not always possible due to the capacity of the school.

Broaden the definition of coaching

When we think about instructional coaching, we likely envision a single coach observing a teacher and providing feedback. Perhaps we’ve been short-sighted. What if instead we broadened our definition of coaching to include several engagement points for teachers? After all, coaching is really about targeted and supported reflection of practice. To help alleviate some of the logistical pain points mentioned previously, we could include multiple interrelated activities as part of a system of coaching, such as:

  • Self-reflection.
  • Peer-to-peer observation and feedback.
  • Individual coaching sessions between a teacher and instructional coach.
  • Performance coaching conversations addressing teaching, lesson study, etc.

Making this shift is easier said than done, but it’s much more feasible to engage teachers in frequent reflection and coaching if the school isn’t relying on a single coach to carry the entire system. The activities must be coordinated, and a coach can be the one managing the process, but we need to think beyond the traditional coaching structure.

Involve more people in the coaching process—as coaches

You don’t have to have the word “coach” in your title to be an instructional coach. In fact, almost everyone in the building can play a role in the coaching process—and there’s a lot to be said for engaging staff and we should all see ourselves as coaches. Grade-level or content-area peer can all provide insights and feedback on instruction. But to do this effectively training and as previously mentioned, the key is creating the right structures and processes for this to happen.

Leverage tech to help

Technology can be crucial to supporting a more effective coaching structure, using online coaching allows both teachers and coaches to not only watch and discuss instructional practice together, but to do it at a mutually convenient time. Engaging in reflection such as this would be impossible without technology.  Schools are also using applications such as Padlet and platforms such as Seesaw to share practice and create learning conversations

Invest and manage your coaches

Coaches need to be supported to invest in their own continuous learning beyond the short-term including the regular videoing of their coaching sessions and then sharing the footage with other coaches for feedback and providing opportunities for them to reflect on their own practice. We must coach the coaches—and manage their performance. If they’re not effective, none of this work will matter. To provide ongoing feedback, we must find ways to collect formative data to improve coaching practices. 

Four ways we can help you

1. Performance coaching 

Our coaching service provides school leaders with a safe, confidential space where they can 

find positive solutions, develop strategies, realise strengths and determine the next steps.  The approach we use is called Performance Coaching.  We work with individuals or in group coaching sessions. In person or on a virtual platform; both work well. Leadership coaching is one of the most effective development tools available. It makes leadership more successful and sustainable.  We believe passionately that coaching is a must for great leaders. 

2. Training the coaches

Instructional coaching demands a new set of skills. Classroom teaching alone doesn’t fully prepare coaches for this. We believe schools need a structured programme to help new coaches learn the job, and existing coaches improve. We will work with you to create a curriculum for the different phases of a coaching conversation, including setting up the coaching conversation and building trust, identifying learning problems, teaching goals, and action steps, developing and using effective models, planning and rehearsing the action step and following up.

3. Evaluating impact

We will support you to put in place a robust evaluation framework at the start of the planning phase which will enable a rigorous, dispassionate impact evaluation of coaching implementation.  This will allow you to understand whether professional development strategies are working. Evaluation is a really important part of any school improvement activity and professional development is no exception.  What benefits are solely due to the coaching programme, and to what extent? What tangible benefits have accrued to the school because of the coaching programme? 

4. Completing an organisational health and readiness check:

We will working with senior leaders to look at readiness for a coaching culture asking questions such as What resources are already in place? What else is required? What needs to be changed? What has been achieved so far? Who needs to be involved? Are the results, achievements and benefits likely to be durable?