Aim to end 'expressly unfair' achievement gap for children in Northumberland

Northumberland County Council wants a new strategy to address the ‘expressly unfair’ achievement gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.

Schools get pupil premium funding based on the number of pupils they have who are either eligible for free school meals, or who are looked-after children or previously looked-after. There is a separate payment for pupils who have a parent in the Armed Forces.

As of June this year, Northumberland had 10,714 eligible children – 22.2% of primary and 24.6% of secondary pupils, attracting more than £13million of funding to schools in the county.

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However, a report to the Thursday, September 17, meeting of the family and children’s services committee stated: ‘Currently, the pupil premium funding does not seem to be having an impact in Northumberland on closing the performance gaps except in the Early Years.’

David Street, the authority’s acting deputy director of education, told councillors: “Overall for the pupil-premium group, their performance in Northumberland is lower than their peers nationally, except for in Early Years.

“At the same time, our non-pupil-premium children actually on average do slightly better than non-pupil-premium peers nationally.

“So the pupil-premium group is doing a little bit worse and the non-pupil-premium group is doing a little bit better and, as a result, the gap between those two groups is higher than the national average, except for in Early Years.”

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He added: “It remains expressly unfair that somebody in a class is less likely to do well than the person sat next to them, mainly due to one’s parents having a higher income level than the child next door. That’s not acceptable.

“At the same time, there are many successful pupil-premium children in Northumberland, it’s just not all of them.”

Councillors agreed that a Northumberland or North of Tyne Pupil Premium Strategy should be created and that outcomes for disadvantaged students are given a higher priority in all council service plans.

Cllr Guy Renner-Thompson, the new cabinet member for children’s services, said: “What this report says to me is that although outcomes are getting better, they are not getting better quick enough.

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“We are going to be an authority that doesn’t just bury its head in the sand and say, things are bobbling along and getting better, we’re going to really, really push for these children to make sure they have the best outcome in life.

“That’s something I’m really proud of and I think we should all be really proud of that, that as a local authority we are doing that, because there are other parts of the country where that certainly won’t be the case.”

Mr Street referred to lots of research which concluded that the ‘core impact on the pupil-premium group is high-quality teaching’, not necessarily additional support.

He said: “So actually headteachers who might say to me privately that unfortunately I’m using some or all of the additional funding I’m getting to plug gaps in my mainstream offer, what I’m repeating back to them is, that’s brilliant, because it is your mainstream offer that is actually going to make the difference.

“Those schools in Northumberland that are having success, yes, there are schemes of work and different strategies they are using, but what we have found is that when we apply some of the strategies that particularly support disadvantaged children, it’s often high-quality teaching which goes on to support every other child in the class.

“That doesn’t mean we’re necessarily closing the gap, because the higher-performing children also get better. The core outcomes do go up though and need to continue to do so.”

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