The Pupil Premium – OfSTED National Director responds

Roger Titcombe's picture


I have recently written a number of articles on the subject of the ‘Attainment Gap’ and the ‘Pupil Premium’. Having discovered the email address for Amanda Spielman from her letter to the Public Accounts committee, I have tried to engage her on these issues in relation to her recent statements about shifting the focus of inspections away from KS1, KS2 and KS4 performance data.

These attempts are invariably intercepted, eventually resulting in a bland restatement of current policy that fails to address the serious, fundamental issues that I, along with many others, are trying to raise. Progress, however, has now been made, as the latest of these replies is signed by HMI Sean Harford, National Director (Education). His letter to me was received as an uncopyable pdf email attachment. In it he states:

During Inspections, inspectors will ask schools how they are spending the Pupil Premium and its impact on outcomes for pupils“.

There is a link to the current DfE guidance for schools on school attainment and progress data, but no engagement whatever with the issues raised with Ms Spielman in this article, to which I had requested a response. So here is another try in the form of an open letter published on my website.


Dear Mr Harford,

Thank you for your letter of  13 December 2018.

In the article I sent to Ms Spielman I link to the articles by Professor Rebecca Allen of UCL Institute of Education that I discuss here and here.

The central issues are the true nature of the ‘disadvantage’ that the Pupil Premium (PP) is designed to address, how this can be validly quantified and the nature and validity of the data used by OfSTED inspectors to judge whether a school has been successful in using the PP to overcome the assumed disadvantage.

The nature of disadvantage that generates the Pupil Premium

The DfE criteria are as follows.

In the 2018 to 2019 financial year, schools will receive the following funding for each pupil registered as eligible for free school meals ( FSM ) at any point in the last 6 years: £1,320 for pupils in reception to year 6. £935 for pupils in year 7 to year 11.

 It is therefore clear that the assumption of the DfE is that the disadvantage arises from parental poverty. However Professor Allen points out that degree of parental poverty is not reliably indicated by FSM.

The OfSTED criteria for judging the effectiveness of school’s interventions

The pupil-based data stored and used by OfSTED to judge a school’s use of PP is based on attainment in KS1 and KS2. These ‘prior attainment’ data generate ‘expectations’ for improved individual pupil attainments needed in the next Key Stage to ‘narrow the gap’ with non-FSM pupils. Despite the fact that DfE data has failed to produce national evidence of any ‘gap narrowing’ as a result of this PP policy (despite false DfE claims to the contrary), schools continue to be subject to harsh OfSTED judgements and enforced interventions should PP pupils not reach their prior attainment-based targets.

DfE has made it clear that it does not collect or have any regard to ‘ability’ rather than ‘attainment’ data and has shown no interest in the work of my colleague, John Mountford, who has compared Cognitive Ability Test (CATs) with SATs data for cohort and FSM pupils in a number of secondary schools along the M4 corridor.

CATs results are statistically standardised and reported on the IQ scale that has a mean of 100 and a Standard Deviation (SD) of 15.

SATs results are now reported on a scale of 80 – 120 with a ‘minimum expected’ score of 100 for all pupils. This looks like a standardised IQ scale, but it can’t be, because DfE reported that in 2017, 61% of pupils exceeded the ‘expected’ score of 100. This being the case, the mean national attainment could not have been 100 (the mid point of the 80-110 scale)

The lack of statistical validity of the KS2 SATs attainment scale is discussed in detail here.

Despite the lack of statistical comparability between SATs and CATs scores, the patterns found by John Mountford still point to unavoidable  problems with the DfE assumptions.

CATs are now marketed by GL Assessment and were previously by NfER-Nelson. They have long been used by many Academy schools and MATs as the basis of ‘fair banding’ admissions policies approved by DfE to ensure cognitive ability balanced intakes. 11-plus grammar school admission tests have long been constructed on the same basis, which is to assess levels of cognitive function/IQ rather than recall of taught knowledge.

Unlike SATs, CATs are reliably predictive of GCSE performance based on huge amounts of data collected over many decades. Secondary schools that do not use them for admissions purposes are increasingly screening all their Y7 pupils with CATs because of a widespread belief by secondary school leaders that SATs are often inflated as a result of their high stakes nature incentivising ‘gaming’ and shallow ‘cramming’, rather than teaching for deep learning and that they therefore lack validity as base-line measures for judging pupil progress.

This is currently being raised as a serious issue by Amanda Spielman, the OfSTED Chief Inspector with widespread support across the education system.

In his study, John obtained data from 11 secondary schools where the intake FSM ranged from 4% to 44%.

In every school, the SATs scores were significantly higher than the CATs scores.

Both SATs and CATs scores for FSM (and therefore PP) pupils were on average significantly lower than the Y7 cohort mean with no clear relationship with the overall FSM percentage in the intake.

The FSM pupil SATs scores were on average 3.19 points below the cohort  means.

The FSM pupil CATs scores were on average 7.56 points below the cohort means.

Further support for this pattern can be found in the national CATs data on p10 of this document published by GL Assessment.

These are reproduced below with the corresponding percentiles (percentage of population scoring below) in brackets.

Not FSM pupils 

Verbal Reasoning 102.0 (55th)

Quantitative Reasoning  101.2 (53rd)

Non Verbal Reasoning  102.1 (55th)

FSM pupils

Verbal Reasoning  91.7 (28th)

Quantitative Reasoning  93.2 (32nd)

Non Verbal Reasoning  94.1 (34th)

It is therefore clear that there is a huge gap between Non FSM and FSM pupils, but it is a cognitive ability, not an attainment gap.

This being the case, not only is the DfE/OfSTED  attainment/ pupil premium gap assumption based on a completely false premise, but so therefore is the OfSTED inspection policy in relation to SATs data in general and to PP in particular.

On 14 December, an important and highly relevant blog was published on the ‘Reclaiming Schools’ website from which the following is quoted (in italics).

major government-funded study  [Influences on Children’s Attainment and Progress in Key Stage 2: Cognitive Outcomes in Year 6] run by Oxford University tracked large numbers of children from nursery school to leaving school.

 Children of mothers with GCSE as their highest qualification had Key Stage 2 scores around the national average (i.e. the 50th percentile rank). The average score of mothers who had no qualifications was well below average – around the 30th percentile. Few of these children score above average in SATs, and some are right at the bottom.

 The average score for children whose mothers had university degrees (or NVQ level 4) was very high – averaging at the 78th percentile. Very few of these pupils score below average, and many will leave primary school with SATs scores near the top.

 Well educated parents are able to pass on many educational benefits to their children. [my bold]

 The hidden differences between schools and areas

There are enormous differences between different parts of England in terms of adult qualifications. Partly this is the result of the brain-drain south – graduates moving towards London for suitable work. Two areas can even have similar Free School Meals levels but differently qualified adult populations. Imagine for example two areas showing 20% FSM and 80% non-FSM. Maybe very few of the FSM children have graduate parents. But suppose in one area the 80% non-FSM includes many graduates, and far fewer in the other. This is not unusual.

Compare for example Kensington and Chelsea (London) with North East Lincolnshire (Grimsby). The free meal data is almost identical, since affluent Kensington and Chelsea contains some areas of extreme poverty.

Kensington and Chelsea – 49% disadvantaged, 21% current FSM

North East Lincolnshire – 41% disadvantaged, 19% current FSM

In the former, 64% of adults have degrees, but in the latter it is only 22%. This more than explains the proportions of pupils passing their KS2 SATs (70% and 51%). Nationally 39% of the adult working-age population have university degrees (or other qualifications at NVQ4). In most of London it is well above average, even in areas which have traditionally not been regarded as affluent and which include serious pockets of poverty:

Hackney 59%
Islington 62%
Lambeth 67%.

In many poorer northern areas with rundown coastal towns and de-industrialised cities it is in the 20s:

Hartlepool 22%
Blackpool 23%
Knowsley 23%
Middlesbrough 26%
Hull 27%
South Tyneside 29%.

No account is taken of this very important factor when local authorities and schools are judged by league table position or Ofsted. The teachers serving the poorest populations are simply told to try harder. [my bold]

Of course this doesn’t mean it’s right for children growing up in Grimsby to achieve less than those in Chelsea, but it’s pointless and offensive blaming their teachers. To change this we need a dramatic political change.

There is nothing new about this. The fact that school attainment is very strongly correlated with parental level of education has been established for decades.

Well educated parents are indeed able to pass on many educational benefits to their children. But what is the mechanism of this?

Is it that better qualified parents are more able to help their children with their homework, or that more cognitively able parents produce more cognitively able children? It seems likely that the latter is the case and that both ‘nurture’ and ‘nature’ play a part.

The key fact is that it is parental education, not relative affluence/FSM eligibility that is the main driver. The children of less well educated parents consistently fare worse in the education system regardless of relative affluence. Child development experts point to the amount and quality of conversation that takes place in the family home as the key driver of cognitive development. As we have noted, this has only a tenuous link with FSM eligibility, so it is not surprising that an FSM-driven PP policy is likely to be ineffective, provide poor value for money and victimise schools serving communities with low levels of parental qualifications.

In KS1 and KS2 an effectively targeted PP driver should surely be related to the developmental level of the child. Experienced teachers are far more expert in forming diagnostic judgements about the developing abilities of their pupils than OfSTED Inspectors, pre-armed with invalid data, spending a short time in a school. Where a developmental ‘gap’ is identified then PP funding can support appropriately targeted development enhancing interventions. Of course accountability for the outcomes of school approaches to teaching and learning is required. This article explains how this can be achieved.

In KS3 and KS4 the PP driver cannot be SATs, because these are flawed ‘high stakes’ measures primarily devised to drive competition between schools in a marketised education system that perversely incentivises inflated scores. Here too, it is clear that criteria based on dodgy measures of attainment targeted at FSM pupils will result in the misdirection of resources to meet high stakes, statistically flawed ‘attainment’ targets, when it is cognitive development where the fundamental ‘gap’ lies.

The obvious solution is to scrap SATs and replace them with CATs screening of all pupils at the start of Y7. This was the Cumbria system in the early years of Local Management of Schools when LEAs were able to distribute considerable resources and funding under their ‘Non-Statutory SEN’ budgets. The Cumbria ‘PP’ at ascending funding levels was driven by CATs score boundaries at various levels below 85 (-1SD). The Verbal, Quantitative and Non-Verbal Reasoning CATs sub-tests informed further diagnosis of the developmental deficit of each individual pupil. I discuss this here.

Nature, however, also has a role. Although the ‘Reclaiming Schools’ blog authors are uncomfortable with inherited cognitive ability/IQ, it would be unsurprising if cognitively able women tend to seek out their cognitive equals when selecting the fathers of their children. Recognising that our genes make a significant, though currently unquantifiable contribution to educational outcomes has to be viewed as a factor that helps explain why the children of cognitively able parents tend to do well at school. I have always taken the view that it is best for schools to concentrate on things they can influence rather than those they can’t.

Given what we now know about the scope for cognitive enhancement of all pupils through appropriate approaches to teaching and learning, this surely represents life chance enhancing opportunities for all pupils of all abilities, that teachers should and would be excited about, rather than threatened by. 

Yours sincerely

Roger Titcombe

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Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 20/12/2018 - 10:42

A recent TES article asks 'Why won't Ofsted admit that pupil background can hinder schools?'    He ends by saying:

'Why then does she [Amanda Spielman] appear so blind to the impact that home life beyond a teacher’s control will have on academic results? Acknowledging it would be admitting reality, not excusing failure. Acting as if it does not exist risks contributing to a spiral of decline in failing schools that only worsens the plight of their pupils.' 


Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 20/12/2018 - 11:19

The comments to the TES article are quick to blame parents, some in the most hostile way.

Yes, absolutely crap parenting, not poverty, is the main problem. I suspect that Ofsted ignores this because they are able to kick schools, but sadly they can't hand out a damn good flogging to the many parents who so richly deserve it.

This is both wrong and nasty. As the head of a school serving one of the most deprived electoral wards in England I rarely met parents that didn't care deeply and do their best for their children. My article is clear - the issue is cognitive ability, of parents and their childred. It is not that schools cannot break this cycle. They can, but are not allowed to by the perverse incentives brought about by the marketised education system and the reinforcement of that damaging perversity by the DfE and by OfSTED, the latter acting as the ideological enforcer of the latter.

I know my articles are nearly always long, complicated and frequently counter-intuitive, but that is what the issues are.

It is possible to organise teaching and learning in a way that prioritises cognitive development. See

Some schools depress cognitively ability by failing to understand that 'telling isn't teaching and listening isn't learning'.

Others, ignorant of Piaget and Vygotsky, deliberately enforce anti-developmental teaching cultures in their schools.

Why, if the amount and quality of conversation in the home was stunted, would a school want to further stunt it in schools like Ninestyles, that ban conversation?

We should never under-estimate the power of comprehensive schools to enhance the wisdom, morality and intelligence of their students, but we have an anti-educational school culture enforced by the government because of ideology. 

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 20/12/2018 - 12:37

Roger - to be fair to Ninestiles, it hasn't banned conversation.  Its behaviour policy stresses orderly calm:  "Behaviour in all corridors should be quiet and orderly – no shouting, screaming or running – ‘Calm corridors, private voices’".  The words 'silence' and 'silent' don't appear. It's true the school earned national publicity with an alleged 'no talking in the corridors' rule but this doesn't seem borne out by the policy.  In any case, one tweet on the matter said the silent corridor rule was brought in because there was a split lunchtime.  Some pupils were still in class while others moved towards the dining area.  Don't know if that's true but, as I said, the silent corridor rule doesn't appear in the behaviour policy.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 20/12/2018 - 12:41

Roger - re 'crap parenting'.  This description is almost always directed at the poorest in the same way as ignorant commentators speak about 'feckless parents', 'feral underclass' etc.   It's true that a tiny minority of parents are ineffective but this isn't confined to the most deprived.  So-called 'advantaged' children can have parents who are neglectful, selfish and careless.  In the latter case, however, such ineffectiveness can be masked by their children hitting results targets.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 20/12/2018 - 13:31


Janet - The original letter to parents was very clear that slience was required, with detentions as punishment for talking in corridors between lessons. You will find it in this BBC report.

If they have dropped the policy - good, but it was a shocker that should never have seen the light of day

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 20/12/2018 - 16:11

It seems good sense has prevailed.  It would be unfortunate, and misleading, if the letter contradicted the published behaviour policy.

John Mountford's picture
Thu, 20/12/2018 - 19:00

Roger, your view, "that it is best for schools to concentrate on things they can influence rather than those they can’t." is absolutely right. The problem is, this is not what politicians expect of, nor intend for, the school system. As you know I have been waiting for a response from Minister Gibb to my recent letter. The reply arrived today. Unsurprisingly, it reiterates the government's line. He is clear about what the role of schools is. "Rigorous assessment enables parents and teachers to identify the areas in which additional support is needed. They also allow us to hold schools to account in supporting all their pupils to reach their full potential."

There are some issues the Minister is either ignorant of or he is determined to have it his way. Summative assessment, that SATs represent, can NEVER identify areas in which additional support is needed only what knowledge is poorly understood or absent. SATs can only ever identify those pieces of the knowledge based curriculum being tested that individual children have got 'right' or 'wrong' at the end of the Key Stage. Only ongoing formative assessment provides diagnostic information for teachers. The Minister is either confused or ill-informed - SATs only tell us what children do not yet know at the time of testing. This leads on to your correspondence with the Chief HMI.

There is great confusion over pupils achieving their full potential. Ofsted is as guilty as the politicians and their henchpeople in the DfE in displaying their ignorance of this fact. We can never know what someones potential might be. That said, we can, and absolutely should, ensure that all teaching is designed to be cognitively developmental. Clearly, the complexity of the subject matter you are trying to engage in with Amanda Spielman is staggering. In my view, the establishment does not want to engage for this very reason. That is why taking this debate to a wider audience is so important. 

The level of resistance to considering the role our genes play in helping to make us more intelligent is substantial. This arises because of the fearful spectre of genetic engineering. Most people are unaware that what we are learning about the links between our genes and intelligence is not explanitory. In recognising which areas of our brains are activated during learning we are not better able to understand how we learn. Learning is totally dependent on other factors that we often overlook, maybe because of their complexity, unpredictability and thier stubborn resistance to measurement. These include the specific individual characteristics of the learner, the relationships that have developed with significant others through life, social conditions in the home, parenting, poverty, ambition, past experiences of learning, attitudes to failure, resistance to learning, poor health, special learning needs, poor memory, the list is considerable.

The stubborn resistance to engaging with this sort of complexity on the part of the establishment is worrying. The consequences of not doing so are certain to limit the development and wellbeing of another generation of learners. It would be reassuring to get a response from Mr Harford, because the Minister clearly does not know what he is dealing with. My resaon for saying so is his comment about predicting pupil attainment. The Workload Advisory Group report, 'Making Data Work' stated "that 'fligh-paths', where pupils are told the levels they will achieve based on the performance data of pupils with similar starting points in previous years are not valid as a prediction, as they understate the variation in pupils'development trajectories." I would go further than the committee in saying we have NO METRIC for establishing the variation in pupils' development trajectiories and that therin lies a problem of gigantic proportions. Sound-bite management in this situation is not what will work, Minister. 

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