The Pupil Premium Plus provides £2300 per pupil in local authority care (or adopted/under a special guardianship order/under a child arrangement order) from reception age to year 11 in state-funded education in England (Foster and Long, 2018; PAC-UK, 2018). Positively, this funding stream has opened up a national conversation about the unique educational needs of children and young people in local authority care, but it is only a step in the right direction for a number of reasons. Four years after its introduction in England, the phrase ‘Pupil Premium Plus’ is not commonly found within governmental or academic literature. Instead, reference is still only made to the ‘Pupil Premium’. Often, the ‘Plus’ is subsumed under the general Pupil Premium, at least in narrative and possibly in practice. Further evidence of this subsuming is a lack of evidence base for effective financial investment in the educational lives of those in local authority care.
Pupil Premium spending is guided by the Educational Endowment Foundation Toolkit which provides ‘evidence-based’ (which is problematic in itself) guidance on the effectiveness, financially and educationally, of interventions designed to increase pupil attainment. An equivalent toolkit has not emerged for the Pupil Premium Plus despite being introduced to address the unique needs of children and young people in local authority care in England. Left to work in the absence of a strong evidence base or clear policy imperative, each Virtual School Head is able to distribute the Pupil Premium Plus according to their own discretion. It is very likely that distributional differences will or have emerged across the country. Without guidance which focusses on the specific needs of these children and young people, (Virtual) schools’ policies and practices, funded by the Pupil Premium Plus, may in fact work to compound the identification of a child or young person as ‘looked-after’, as different, with the unintended consequence of emphasising educational disadvantage (Mannay et al., 2017).
My doctoral project seeks to examine the implementation and effects of the Pupil Premium Plus. My work is interested in exploring how the component parts of a complex policy, which crosses several institutional boundaries, like the Pupil Premium Plus, works. Often, educational research understands policy, decision-making, practice, and young people’s experiences as separate elements, on different levels. I am interested in taking a different approach. My research is focussed on the ways in which a budget decision made in one place might change how a young person feels about; their school and their teacher, whether they feel they belong in the classroom, or themselves and their chances of educational success. An approach of this kind, allows me to be sensitive to the complex and often chaotic nature of children and young people’s lives, not privileging policy over other aspects, but taking issues like commissioning as seriously as a young person’s identity.
In short, I will trace the processes of the Pupil Premium Plus from local authority level to the child/young person. I will enter the field, initially, through the Virtual School team, in one or two local authorities in England, whom I will observe and interview, shadowing the roles that comprise the team. From here, I will seek to build relationships and networks with foster carers, social workers, schools, and young people, to explore the implementation and effects of the Pupil Premium Plus as it moves from the Virtual School. I aim to interview key stakeholders involved in the Pupil Premium Plus which will include foster carers, social workers, headteachers, and designated teachers. As the voice of the young people forms a critical part of my project, I will both facilitate focus groups with young people in receipt of the money and conduct a number of one-to-one interviews. It is vital that I understand how the young people comprehend, view, and experience the Pupil Premium Plus. Finally, I will also conduct document analysis of several school websites and their Pupil Premium (Plus) documentation to explore what is said, or not, about the Pupil Premium Plus.
It is my belief that an examination of the complex Pupil Premium Plus landscape, in the aforementioned way, and in the context of implementation and effects, will produce a deeper understanding of this policy. This deeper understanding will allow, for stakeholders, a critical exploration of the policy, a discussion about what ‘best practice’ might look like, produce ideas for change which might improve provision, and, for children and young people, enable their voice to be heard so we can recognise what effect this policy has on their daily lives. My overall aims are that; provision for children and young people in local authority care is the best that it can be; that resources available are use in the best way possible; and the voices of stakeholders and, most importantly, children and young people are heard.
If you are interested in my work, please do not hesitate to be in touch through my university email address firstname.lastname@example.org or through Twitter @HMBowden, it would be great to hear from you.
Foster, D. and Long, R. (2018). The Pupil Premium. Briefing Paper, Number 6700. 17 April 2018. London: House of Commons.
Mannay, A., Evans, R., Staples, E., Hallett, S., Roberts, L., Rees, A. and Andrews, R. (2017) 'The Consequences of Being Labelled ‘Looked-After’: Exploring the Educational Experiences of Looked-After Children and Young People in Wales', British Educational Research Journal, 43(4), pp. 683-699.