Research Report: Evaluation of the Pupil Premium

Researchers identify how schools support children on free school meals and those in care

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Authors Hannah Carpenter, Ivy Papps, Jo Bragg, Alan Dyson, Diane Harris and Kirstin Kerr, Liz Todd and Karen Laing - TNS BMRB, Tecis, Centre for Equity in Education, University of Manchester and Newcastle University

Published by Department for Education, July 2013


Independent researchers commissioned by the Department for Education set out to identify how schools have been spending the extra funding they receive for children on free school meals and those in care, known as the pupil premium. This funding, introduced in April 2011, aims to close the attainment gap between these disadvantaged children and their peers. The report authors wanted to know how schools decide what to spend the money on, whether different types of schools spend in different ways and what the impact of the spending has been. Researchers carried out telephone surveys with 1,250 schools during autumn term 2012, with more in-depth interviews taking place at 34 schools.

Pupil premium funding constituted between one and 3.8 per cent of schools' overall funding. About 70 per cent of schools had increased spend on provision for disadvantaged pupils since the introduction of the pupil premium, although in many cases overall budgets had reduced. Eighty per cent of primary schools and 77 per cent of secondary schools spent more than the pupil premium allocation in providing support for disadvantaged children, and the researchers say that, in general, schools have used the funding to pay for existing support rather than to create brand new provision.

The researchers found that many schools were reluctant to use free school meal eligibility as the only criterion for giving additional help, preferring to base their assessment on educational as well as economic need. More than three-quarters of schools had encouraged parents to register for free school meals since the introduction of the pupil premium, and most (80 per cent) told parents this would increase the funding the school received. Some schools said they did not want to publicise the pupil premium in case parents demanded the funding their child attracted be spent solely on that child. Many pooled the premium with other budgets to support disadvantaged pupils, making it difficult to say what exactly the money was being spent on.

Most of the money was spent on support for curriculum learning and social, emotional and behavioural support. In general, schools' additional support for disadvantaged pupils predated the introduction of the pupil premium, and most schools (98 per cent) drew on their own experience of what had previously worked when deciding how to spend the funding. Seventy-four per cent of primaries and 81 per cent of secondaries used evidence from other schools, while 67 per cent of primaries and 63 per cent of secondaries said academic research was a factor in their decision.

Schools said the most effective support they provided was additional staff (75 per cent of schools said this was very effective). Sixty per cent of schools offering additional support outside the classroom said this was very effective. Additional support inside the classroom was thought to be very effective by 70 per cent of primary schools, but only 41 per cent of secondary schools.

Looking ahead, 40 per cent of primary schools and 60 per cent of secondary schools were planning to increase their support for disadvantaged pupils over the next year, with the rest hoping to maintain existing support.


There is a tension between the way the pupil premium defines disadvantage and the criteria used by schools to identify disadvantaged pupils. The report says schools should be given clearer messages about whether their use of the extra funding is legitimate. The fact that schools pool pupil premium money with other sources of funding makes it difficult for them to say exactly what they spend it on. The report authors say this has implications for Ofsted inspections, which ask schools about their use of the premium. Schools should be encouraged to develop robust systems for assessing need, coming up with support and assessing the impact of that support.


  • NfER Teacher Voice Omnibus 2012 Survey: The Use of the Pupil Premium, Rachel Cunningham and Karen Lewis, July 2012. This paper surveyed more than 1,600 teachers about the pupil premium and the top three priorities for extra spending at their school. Early intervention schemes, reducing class sizes, more one-to-one tuition and additional teaching assistants were the most frequently cited priorities.
  • How Schools are Using the Pupil Premium Funding to Raise Achievement for Disadvantaged Pupils, Ofsted, September 2012. A survey based on the views of 262 school leaders, gathered through inspections and telephone interview questionnaires conducted by Her Majesty's Inspectors.
  • Getting the Most Out of the Pupil Premium, Jonathan Clifton, in Excellence and Equity: Tackling Educational Disadvantage in England's Secondary Schools, IPPR, June 2013. This argues that the pupil premium should be targeted at primary schools.

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