Pupil Premium Plus: Kipper or Herring

This was originally an excessively long response (sorry) to a great blog by Stuart Guest giving a very helpful overview of various PP+ issues and very sensible suggestions for ‘whole school’ approaches. For my blog post to make sense, first read Stuart’s blog dated 14th March 2018: https://educationandadoption.wordpress.com/

I do love herring.

Ideally, as suggested by Stuart Guest, all schools would improve their knowledge and expertise on attachment and trauma, prioritising all children’s social and emotional needs. HOWEVER, sadly not all schools really want to do this, or even believe this is the way forward. There is a huge diversity in school leadership – not only in terms of practice but also in terms of ethos, values and pedagogic approaches. Adopters cannot always know in advance which school has the genuine willingness to engage and develop in this way, nor can they always practically access such schools.

Moreover, there is an implicit pressure and responsibility placed on adopters to not only educate and inform schools about our own children, but even to get schools to shift policy: that can be a huge task. Whilst there are many adopters – often those with relevant professional experience – doing a fantastic job in this respect, there are also many, many adopters exhausted of seeking to educate/engage/convince/‘fight’ various ‘systems’ already: post-adoption support; Adoption Support Fund; therapy; speech and language; CAMHS; SEN support; EHCP; contact arrangements; medical appointments; disability services, the list goes on. And that does not even cover the significant daily emotional input and support many of our children need: the therapeutic parenting; the dealing with violence and trauma; the strategies for the neuro a-typicals; the educating ourselves and, of course, keeping on top of the all-important self-care especially for those of us suffering from secondary trauma.

Yes, ideally all schools do better on the emotional and mental health front, but that does not necessarily take away from the need to keep Pupil Premium Plus focused on the adopted pupils it is intended to support.

Indeed, schools have a duty to “do whatever they can to meet and support the needs of all pupils”, just like CAMHS have a duty to do care for every child with a mental health need, and the NHS for every person with a medical need etc. In an ideal world all provision is made (timely) “regardless of the specific funding pot the money comes from”, but unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world and the trough is not limitless. Schools are under challenging financial pressures. As a result, funds – as well as other resources – are restricted and choices need to be made. At the moment these choices are influenced mainly by the results on which schools are judged (closing the attainment gap), and their beliefs in what might work best to get those results.

NOT ring-fencing in some (many?) schools means – on the one hand – that those pupils that are least likely to help a school get these results, yet most likely to take up resources, will fall by the waste side. Call me cynical, but I do not think it is a coincidence that the exclusion rate, especially of children with ASD and other SEN, has gone up since the new SEN funding block is not ring-fenced for SEN children! In terms of ‘result per penny’, they simply cost a school too much. But I digress.

On the other hand, not ring-fencing also means that those adopted children that ‘get by’ despite the challenges; that manage to ‘keep it together’ in school, and be at the ‘expected’ level, will not get additional support in school. Some adopted children manage to get there (sometimes only after many years) because of the enormous input of their parents: they give up work to therapeutically parent; they pay a private tutor or supplement teaching at home; they arrange therapy (and go to therapy themselves!); they ‘hold’ their child together to get through the school day; they pick up the pieces after school, etc.! This is what we do as parents of course, but really some of the pressures could be taken off by targeting the PP+ spending on our children, even when they do ‘get by’. This doesn’t have to be all individual spend, sometimes it can be a ‘pooled’ provision as long as our adopted children are guaranteed to benefit. The amount is not insignificant: relative to the current mean spend per pupil which is around £4800, a premium of £2300 is actually very, very substantial.

I don’t think many adopters would simply want PP+ money spent on their child regardless of needs. I imagine the main focus of adopters, and indeed other SEN parents, is always on meeting their child’s support needs. Unfortunately, we are often told there are no funds available, or that our child is not the priority. Having a ring-fenced pot may go some way in shifting the power dynamics in these conversations.

I would say PP+ is not always so much an “unintentional distraction” from focusing on our children’s needs, but rather often a potential tool to finally get some leverage with schools and get them to listen and provide relevant support for our children who really could do with a boost whether they are ‘attaining’ or not.

On the topic of herring: being Dutch I prefer mine raw, but in the UK people seem to like them smoked (as a result of which they turn red: kippers). In my view PP+ is not so much a kipper/red herring that could divert hunting dogs from the scent on a trail, but rather a potentially nutritious meal that should not be left marinating in the communal barrel for too long.

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