Pupil premium? It’s personal

Tom MiddlehurstTom Middlehurst, Head of Public Affairs SSAT, writes…

Reading Alexander Harris’s report on pupil premium funding what strikes me most is the relentless focus on personalisation. The report, written on a Teach First summer project with SSAT (and available soon to all SSAT members) offers eight recommendations to maximise the effectiveness of the pupil premium grant in schools, arguing that the system needs to reconceptualise what it means to address educational disadvantage.

Harris’s central argument, which echoes Sir John Dunford’s thoughts on the subject, is that the first step for effective use of the PPG has to be to identify the potential barriers to learning – and barriers to achievement – for individual learners.

Closing the attainment gap, by securing five (or eight) ‘good’ GCSEs for the most disadvantaged students, is not enough. Paul Tough’s work has shown there are students who achieve in high school, but who either don’t go on to higher education, or drop out mid-course. In these cases, their barriers to success were not overcome by good exam results.

Closing the attainment gap, by securing five (or eight) ‘good’ GCSEs for the most disadvantaged students, is not enough

This is in no way a suggestion that young people don’t need, or deserve, the best grades at all stages of their career. They do – and they’re important. But for some students, it’s not enough.

light-bulb-300Many of the recommendations in Harris’s paper have personalisation at their heart: focusing on the whole child, individualised intervention, deep support networks. Personalising learning, as a term, may not be very fashionable today; nor, apparently, very palatable for some politicians.

Indeed, personalising learning has, in some corners, become a byword for low expectations, underpinned by vague and imprecise pedagogies. However, in 2004 David Hargreaves defined personalisation as simply ‘meeting more of the educational needs of more students more fully than ever before’. This, surely, is the essence of the pupil premium.

Personalisation is simply the process of meeting the student wherever he or she happens to be, and adapting our teaching and leadership to best support them. Really, it’s just good teaching.

Really, it’s [personalisation] just good teaching

In fact, the implicit assumption behind personalising learning as a concept, is that we must personalise our teaching. Perhaps this is a more useful (and more palatable!) way of thinking about this in 2015.

The continued pupil premium funding allows schools to do wonderful things for their students. But unless we treat our students as individual – with individual needs, individual backgrounds, and individual barriers to success – we will never achieve true quality and equity in our system.

A summary of Alex’s recommendations can be read in the SSAT National Conference SecEd supplement, along with interviews from many of the conference speakers. The full report will be released as pre-reading for all members before the conference.

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