The first ever official – and binding – guidance specifically addressing Pupil Premium Plus (PP+) for adopted children is finally out (February 2018) and will soon come into force. The rules that schools must follow are embedded in a much broader statutory guidance on new duties to: 1) appoint a designated member of the staff as having responsibility for promoting the educational achievement of previously looked-after pupils, and 2) ensure that this designated person undertakes appropriate training and has regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.
Before I start on PP+, I need to say two things. Firstly, the new role of the designated teacher is of huge significance, and – to be absolutely clear – this role is not exclusively, or even primarily, about the use of PP+. The role covers things like communication and working with parents and guardians; the need for specialist training and provision; Special Educational Needs (SEN) and mental health; behaviour management policy, etc. I will discuss some of these duties in a future blog, but here I will focus on what the statutory guidance says specifically about the use of PP+.
Secondly, another important development occurring alongside, is that the role of the Virtual School Head (VSH) has been extended to provide ‘information and advice’ on the education of previously looked after children. With regards to PP+: this remains managed by the school; the VSH’s role in relation to PP+ for adopted children is to provide “guidance on effective use” only.
I’ll be exploring what the new guidance says in relation to three key questions:
- Who decides? In particular, what role do parents and guardians play?
- Should the funds be focused on the pupils that attract it?
- What specific needs should the funds address?
1. Who decides?
The statutory guidance is clear that PP+ funding remains ‘managed’ by the child’s school (s. 42), whilst the VSH provides guidance on its ‘effective use’. Within the school, the designated person should “… play a key part in decisions on how the PP+ is used (…) and encourage parents and guardians’ involvement in deciding how the PP+ is used (s. 44). The latter requirement is repeated in s.75 which states that parents and guardians “should be encouraged to participate in discussions about their child’s support needs and strategies to meet identified needs, including how PP+ should be used to support their child”.
The language of ‘encouragement’ is a little odd in the context of so many adopters desperately trying to discuss how their child’s needs could be better met at school (whether by using PP+, SEN funding or otherwise). Also, being ‘encouraged to discuss’ is not the same as being ‘consulted’. ‘Consulting’ is a much stronger legal concept: even though it still does not give a final say, a consultation means you must be given a proper, formal opportunity to be heard before a decision can be made. Nevertheless, perhaps we can welcome this as a first step. Schools should of course engage all parents in such discussions anyway, but it could be a helpful provision for those unfortunate adopters who so far have been ‘shut down’ by schools stating they have no say at all in the use of PP+.
In addition, s. 75 also continues: “the views and wishes of parents and guardians should be respected at all times”. This is interesting. I would like to interpret the word ‘respect’ here in the sense of having ‘respect for the law’ or ‘respecting someone’s last wishes’, in which case our views and wishes should really be followed up on. However, I suspect that what is intended is that parents should be treated with courtesy and consideration: again, something schools really should be doing anyway.
2. Who receives the benefit?
PP+ should be used “(…) to support previously looked-after children” (s. 44). The guidance reiterates the position that PP+ is “not a personal budget for individual children”. Instead, the school manages “their PP+ allocation for the benefit of their cohort of (…) previously looked-after children and according to children’s needs” (s. 43).
I have written about the difficulty of this concept of ‘cohort’ in previous blogs. Some schools might have a number of previously looked-after pupils that could be considered a tiny ‘cohort’, but most schools will only have a handful or even just the one! Previously, the DfE have stated that the PP+ for adopted children is not ‘ring-fenced’ within a school, which has led to funds dissipating within a general pot, and, in particular, the ‘plus’ element not being allocated to the specific pupils that attract it.
This new guidance seems to state that PP+ funds must be specifically focused on the needs of the adopted children in a school. This could be incredibly helpful, especially now that PP+ has gone up to £2,300 per pupil. In the context of the average spend per pupil being around £4,800, this certainly is a substantial amount. Targeting these enhanced funds on this small group of pupils, could make a huge difference and encourage a greater focus on their specific needs too.
The requirement of a more targeted approach is reinforced by s. 40 which confirms what I pointed out in my previous blog, that despite some overlap with the needs of economically disadvantaged children, looked-after and previously looked-after children’s needs can be very different. A clearer focus on such needs could in fact be very beneficial for many other pupils too, as it is increasingly evident that ‘attachment friendly’ and ‘trauma aware’ whole school strategies benefit a broad range of children, if not everyone.
A more clearly ‘ring-fenced’ approach focused on the specific needs of previously looked-after pupils, does not necessarily mean that (some of) the PP+ cannot be ‘pooled’ together with other funds to pay for an intervention that benefits a broader range of pupils (especially perhaps looked after pupils). It just means that all PP+ expenditure should be shown to at least specifically benefit adopted pupils ‘according to their needs’. This brings me to the next question.
3. What should it be spent on?
The additional funding is provided “to help improve the attainment of (…) previously looked-after children and close the attainment gap between this group and their peers” (s. 39). It can be used “to facilitate a wide range of educational support”, and the interventions used “should be evidence based and in the best interests of the child” (s. 46).
The focus here remains on ‘attainment’ as the ultimate purpose for the funds (as it does for the general Pupil Premium Grant). However, there are very strong indicators in this guidance that PP+ can be used to address ‘wider’ needs. Of particular relevance is s. 40:
“All pupil premium spending should take account of the specific needs of eligible pupils. (….). The extra funding provided by the PP+ reflects the significant additional barriers faced by looked-after and previously looked-after children (see special educational needs and mental health). The designated teacher has an important role in ensuring the specific needs of looked-after and previously looked-after children are understood by the school’s staff and reflected in how the school uses PP+ to support these children”
This section, along with the fact that the guidance sets out duties more broadly for the designated person in relation to emotional, social, mental health and SEN needs of previously looked-after children, implies that PP+ spending does not necessarily need to be focused on academic attainment directly. In fact, at one point the guidance even makes explicit “the link between emotional well-being and being able to make educational progress” (s. 49).
However, with regards to accountability there is a lot of uncertainty. Governing bodies are required to hold schools to account on how previously looked-after children are supported, what their attainment is, and how their PP+ is used, but how they do this is “flexible” because of the “patchy nature in the numbers”. Indeed, this is a very tricky issue in many schools where there are only a very small number of adopted pupils on roll.
Ultimately, it seems, schools are still mainly held to account by looking at the ‘attainment gap’. Whilst for many pupils there can of course only be ‘attainment’, when a basic level of emotional well-being is in place, this is not always the case: I know some very anxious, ‘over-achieving’ and ‘too’ well-behaved (in school at least) adopted children. Will emotional, mental health or other needs that do not appear to directly impact on attainment (and that are perhaps not the most pressing compared to other pupils in school) be supported too by the PP+? I suspect this is more likely to be the case if parents are really listened to, and if PP+ funds are – at least partially – focused on the individual child’s needs, neither of which are currently clearly set out in the new guidance.
The gains are: that parents should at least be ‘encouraged’ to take part in discussions; that schools must make a clearer distinction with the needs of economically disadvantaged pupils; that funds should be specifically targeted on adopted pupils ‘as a cohort’, and that there appears to be more defined scope to address wider needs beyond purely academic attainment.
The risks are: that parents are still not having enough of a say; that certain individual adopted children may not benefit (much) depending on their and the schools’ specific circumstances or approaches, and that in the end schools are still held accountable on the basis of the ‘attainment gap’ only, rather than long term emotional well-being as a value in itself.
In addition, as I mentioned above new role of the designated person more broadly is a hugely important development. I suspect that, with the current financial pressures on schools, many schools will allocate quite a bit of the PP+ they receive to the overheads or salary costs for this designated person. This may not be a bad thing, depending on how their role practically impacts on the specific, individual previously looked after children in the school, but that remains to be seen,…
 Although the term ‘previously looked-after’, also includes children who left care under a Special Guardianship or a Child Arrangement Order, I will use the term ‘adopted’ interchangeably with it for readability purposes.