Can the pupil premium only ever score 23%?

School governor conference shock 

This may come as a shock if you're a dedicated school governor. You see, I have a confession. I was in a governors' conference last year and my attention wandered.

School governor conference shock 

This may come as a shock if you're a dedicated school governor. You see, I have a confession. I was in a governors' conference last year and my attention wandered. During the keynote speech, no less. In fact, it didn’t just wander; I found the speaker so baffling that I resorted to doing maths.   I've been fascinated – obsessed even – with how you help children from disadvantaged, sometimes chaotic, homes make the progress they should at primary school (I’m Chair of Governors at a Hackney primary school with a culturally rich, but, on the whole, economically challenged intake). Now, obviously, tackling disadvantage is something that the pupil premium addresses head on. But not quite. And this is where the results of my necessity-inspired maths surprised me. I did the sums on how much time children spend in primary school.

The time of our lives

What would you estimate? If you’re trying to work out what proportion of their waking hours they spend in school. Include weekends and holidays in the calculations. Forty, fifty, sixty percent? If you guess or estimate around forty to sixty per cent, then you’re in good company. That’s the range most people plump for. The actual answer is 23%. That's less than a quarter of time in school and more than three quarters of their time at home. Which may not be much of an issue if you have a stable home life, but it’s huge if your home and family environment is troubled and chaotic.

Money in time

So how does this affect the investment from the pupil premium? Well, it shows that no matter how much we spend on helping disadvantaged children during the normal school day, unless we address the fact that three-quarters of their time is spent outside school, it is unlikely that interventions such as the pupil premium will have the impact they should. Highly paid, highly pressured professionals complain about being ‘Time Poor’. What’s happening in our primary schools is a truer picture of what it really means to be ‘Time Poor’.

No alternative?

However, there is an alternative. And whether we give credit to the Labour government's policies of introducing and promoting extended schools (which were poorly funded, but nevertheless a very good idea) or that suggest that good schools have always been extended, the lesson is clear in either case. Extended schools are a key tool in encouraging social mobility, helping eradicate child poverty and break what need not be a never ending cycle of want But at what cost? Haven’t we put all our education eggs in more or less the same basket: the pupil premium? In the teeth of the spending cuts, isn’t this, perhaps not enough, but, all that we can realistically hope for? Actually, no. It takes surprisingly little intervention to start to shift the balance.

A small investment with a large return

With a couple of breakfast clubs a week, two to three after school clubs a week, and maybe three weeks in holiday time, we can very quickly bump 23% up to 40 to 50%. If we wish to use education in a way that truly helps level the playing field and makes a difference in terms of social mobility, child poverty or however else we wish to quantify it, improving a child’s total environment must be part of the solution. With relatively little investment we can make sure that the pupil premium doesn't just pass but gets an A*. And more importantly, that all our children have the chance too.