A New Direction has commissioned a series of case studies exploring how secondary schools are aligning their narrowing the gap strategy with providing opportunities for students to engage with arts and culture. This work builds on our growing body of knowledge around how more economically disadvantaged pupils can be supported to engage with arts and culture and the impact this has on their lives.
Pupil premium: the policy context
Introduced in 2011, the pupil premium aims to support schools with narrowing the gap in performance between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, to increase social mobility and to enable pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to go on to the best performing universities.
Under the initiative, publicly funded schools receive additional funding for each ‘disadvantaged’ pupil, defined as pupils who have been registered as eligible for free school meals (FSM) at any point in the last 6 years, pupils who have been in local authority care for one day or more, or pupils who have left local authority care because of adoption, a special guardianship order or child arrangements order. Headteachers and school leaders are free to choose how to spend their pupil premium funding, with accountability measures in place designed to ensure that disadvantaged students are benefiting from funded activity. Since September 2016, locally-maintained schools have been required to publish a strategy for use of pupil premium on their website giving an overview of the main barriers to educational attainment faced by eligible pupils at the school and how the school will spend the pupil premium to address these. It must also include a plan for impact measurement.
Schools are encouraged by the Department for Education and Ofsted to base their decisions over pupil premium spending on evidence of what works in terms of reducing the attainment gap. A key source of support with this is the Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) Teaching and Learning Toolkit, which is designed to provide an accessible summary of research on the effectiveness of a range of strategies schools could use to narrow the attainment gap. First published in 2011, the toolkit includes evidence on over thirty categories - examining whether they make measurable learning gains, the strength of the available evidence base and their relative cost. As the Toolkit is designed to focus on the impact interventions have on maths, English and scientific learning outcomes, it is arguably not framed in a way which captures the breadth and range of the impact of arts participation. This is something the EEF acknowledges; whilst it concludes that arts participation delivers low impact, for low cost based on moderate evidence, it also highlights that that the research evidence shows a wide range of effects and is not straightforward.
Research is also regularly conducted into the trends around how schools are spending pupil premium, with a recent poll of teachers showing the most commonly cited priorities as early intervention schemes (27%), one-to-one tuition (12%) and teaching assistants (12%). Worryingly the same research found that almost a third (30%) of heads – a significant amount of whom were in London - say the funding they get for poorer pupils is being used to plug gaps in their school’s budget.
This pressure on funding, alongside an emphasis on the need to draw on a research and evidence base which is arguably not framed in a way which can capture the breadth and nuances of the impact that arts and cultural engagement can have on pupils, poses a challenge to those looking to advocate for the allocation of pupil premium funding to arts and cultural activity. With these new case studies, A New Direction aims to support the school system in London to develop its understanding of useful strategies for narrowing the attainment gap and to explore the role that arts and cultural activity can play in this.
How are secondary schools aligning their narrowing the gap strategy with providing arts and cultural opportunities?
In addition to hearing examples of the types of activities that schools are offering to support arts and cultural education via pupil premium, A New Direction was particularly interested in exploring how schools discuss: the objectives and aims of spending their pupil premium; the criteria on which activities are selected and the role of senior management, governors and parents in this process; specifically how the school measures and evidences the impact of funded interventions. As part of this research, each school was visited and interviews were conducted with a member of the senior management team, the school staff member who manages the pupil premium provided (if different) and a member of school staff who has facilitated the programme of arts and cultural activity. Where appropriate, pupils were also interviewed to ensure a whole school approach to understanding the impact of the pupil premium.
The four case studies – St Philomena’s Catholic High School for Girls in Sutton, Graveney School in Wandsworth, Hampstead Secondary school in Camden and Stoke Newington School in Hackney – exemplify a range of approaches to allocating pupil premium on arts and cultural activity, ranging from whole school approaches to specific subject interventions.
For Graveney School, the pupil premium funds are used to provide a full range of arts and cultural opportunities across the curriculum. Emphasising how offering arts and cultural opportunities are perceived to have wider life-enhancing benefits such as instilling self-discipline, Graveney has used a proportion of their pupil premium funding specifically for music tuition. This is because it is an activity where children have different access depending on their ability to pay and where increasing participation would benefit life skills. Similarly, St Philomena’s has spent pupil premium funds on supporting music tuition as well as a range of other arts and cultural activities aimed at widening curriculum experiences for its disadvantaged students. For this school, the financial support of pupil premium aids cultural inclusion - supporting students to learn new creative skills which in turn supports connections and socialisation with others.
Both Stoke Newington School and Hampstead School discuss their use of pupil premium in terms of increasing the cultural capital of their most disadvantaged students, highlighting a recognition that those pupils eligible for pupil premium are less likely to benefit from high levels of cultural opportunities due to family financial circumstances. For Hampstead School, endeavouring to support the development of cultural capital involves ensuring opportunities for cultural engagement are supported both within the curriculum and via broader enrichment opportunities as well. The school has set up an artist in residence scheme which allows students insights into real-world career opportunities within the cultural sector. Whilst at Stoke Newington School, the assistant Headteacher has developed relationships with London museums as part of a cultural capital programme which supports KS3 pupils to access cultural enrichment days twice a year.
Themes, Provocations and Recommendations
Whilst activity and approach varies, these case studies highlight a range of themes which emerge as central considerations for schools’ learning around aligning narrowing the gap strategies with ensuring their students have creative and cultural opportunities. These themes were put forward for discussion at AND’s annual schools conference, where the case studies were presented alongside additional research and policy developments.
The case studies reflect the importance of cultural and arts opportunities in supporting the wider learning of pupil premium students, and in turn show how schools can have a role in enhancing cultural capital to remove barriers to accessing and understanding the wider curriculum. However, there are several challenges to positioning pupil premium funded activities as a holistic set of interventions. Not least of these is the lack of consistency in year on year funding. Teachers highlighted how even slight differences in the financial situations of pupils means that funding can differ, which has knock-on effects on planning activity.
The importance of using students feedback and engagement to shape activity and evidence impact is evident throughout the case studies. Teachers reported that whole school approaches were a valuable way of ensuring that pupil premium students did not feel ghettoised or marked out as different from their peers, whilst also acknowledging that the complexity of the barriers disadvantaged children may face need to be addressed, and that opportunities and interventions need to be tailored to specific and diverse needs.
The case studies didn’t point to an over-emphasis on measuring the relationship between arts interventions and attainment. The fact complicated nature of identifying a correlation between arts participation and academic achievement was readily identified by teachers, as was the sense that the arts education sector could offer an alternative measure of success which considered the broader impact of education e.g. well-being, skillsets and more qualitative based measures.
As the case studies exemplify, there is a wide range of data that can be monitored and reviewed to understand the impact of arts & cultural activity, including behavioural and attitudinal data from staff observations and student feedback, levels of participation, as well as post year 11 and 13 destinations data. It was felt that learning and best practice from beyond the education sector could really support teachers to feel confident and creative in terms of collecting evidence of impact.
Influencing School Leadership
Throughout the studies, the importance of communication and dialogue between arts and cultural subject teachers and senior leadership on pupil premium strategy is highlighted. The case studies emphasise how discussion papers, bids, and encouraging parental engagement can all offer useful tools for advocating for arts and cultural activity. A number of teachers felt empowered in making a case to senior management for committing pupil premium funds to arts & cultural activities, and they discussed the importance of engaging parents and carers and looking to Ofsted’s comments on ensuring a broad and rich curriculum in order to gain support for this effort.
Picture credit: Graveney School