Speech: Extending opportunity through the pupil premium

Thank you for that introduction, and I’m delighted to be here for today’s very important summit.

The Sutton Trust – with Sir Peter at the helm – has a long track record of working tirelessly to extend opportunity to the poorest and most disadvantaged in our society. Which is entirely in line with my determination to ensure that every child, regardless of background, is given an education which allows them to realise their full potential.

I would like to congratulate you on your report out today – which highlights some successes of the pupil premium, and poses some important questions for all of us.

For years, the Sutton Trust has sought to reverse the education inequalities that sadly still exist in our society –
a goal that lies at the centre of this government’s work, too.

That’s why we delivered on the 2010 Conservative manifesto commitment to introduce the pupil premium, and have spent £6.25 billion on it to date.

It’s also why we worked with you to establish the Education Endowment Foundation – to develop the talents of all disadvantaged children and young people, and help them succeed.

And it’s why, over the past 5 years, this government has worked hard to offer you security at every stage of your life. We have helped:

  • 2 million more people into work
  • 2.2 million young people have started an apprenticeship
  • almost 4 million of the lowest paid have been lifted out of income tax altogether
  • and of course, a record 82% of schools are now deemed good or outstanding

But in spite of these big steps forward – we know there is more to do to tackle educational inequality. Too many people, and too many young people in particular, are still falling behind.

If even one child has their life stunted or their options limited:

  • by other people’s expectations
  • or circumstances beyond their control
  • by where they live
  • or because of the family that raises them

then that’s one child too many.

Ambition for every child

All of us here, I’m sure, will have seen the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission report from the other week, stating that bright children from poorer backgrounds are still failing to access the top jobs, thanks to an enduring prejudice in elite firms.

More needs to be done, across every sector, to ensure that the highest echelons of public life – our judges, senior ranks of the armed forces, and yes, parliamentarians, too – can be accessed by all talented individuals.

Companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers, Barclays and BT pride themselves on helping students from poorer backgrounds into great jobs. And I hope that in time we will see a wider cultural shift towards their inclusive approach.

Whilst employers and universities have more to do, it’s in classrooms that we can begin to unlock the talent of disadvantaged pupils. So that one day, it is their CV will make it to the top of the pile.

There will always be a debate about what works best when it comes to intervening in the lives of the most disadvantaged. I think there is one thing, however, that everyone can agree on. That is, extending opportunity always starts with a good education.

So, our mission in government and my mission in the department for Education is to deliver educational excellence everywhere – and ensure that every child, regardless of background, receives an education that equips them with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. That means extra support for the most disadvantaged and those who need the most help.

Even before the pupil premium, an IFS report from March showed that there was substantially more money directed to the poorest pupils. Funding was 35% higher in the most deprived primary schools, and 41% higher in the most deprived secondary schools.

It is right that these students are supported by targeted funding. Which is why in this Parliament, we’re continuing to fund the pupil premium, investing £2.5 billion this year.

Supporting bright pupils from poor backgrounds

We’ve already set some ambitious targets when it comes to raising standards, and schools have put our plan for education into action, and I thank them for that:

  • at 16, the new attainment gap measure for GCSEs shows that the achievement gap has narrowed by almost four percent since 2012
  • at age 11, the gap between disadvantaged pupils and others in reading, writing, and mathematics has decreased by 2%
  • Ofsted’s assessment last year stated that schools are using the pupil premium more effectively than ever before
  • and we have raised the standards of early years – there are record numbers of children in nurseries and 85% of children are in childcare that is rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’

But we’ve got to go even further.

It’s not enough just to hope that the pupil premium reaches the right children – because evidence from the National Audit Office and Education Endowment Foundation shows that in too many cases, it still isn’t getting there.

So we will back the smart work of teachers and headteachers, including many of you here today, to see that the pupil premium achieves even more.

And, as I have said before, that work has got to be about more than ‘closing the gap’. Pupils that lag behind their peers should be encouraged to reach their full potential and to go further than simply ‘catching up’. If we would want our own children to study the core academic subjects, we should extend that opportunity to every child. The soft bigotry of low expectation has no place in today’s schooling.

That is why I intend that every secondary school starter in September will study the EBacc subjects at GCSE. The days of ushering children from poorer homes towards so-called ‘easier topics’; that made their lives harder in the long run, are over.

Because it shouldn’t just be the children of highly literate families that get an A* in English. Or those who can afford evening tuition that become excellent mathematicians.

Allowing every child to study the EBacc will raise academic standards for all. It will put an end to the quiet discrimination that once operated in too many schools. When disadvantaged pupils faced unfair barriers to achievement.

Getting more from the pupil premium

The pupil premium was designed to promote an equality of opportunity, and to make that journey to academic excellence easier.

There is always a risk, even in the best schools, that there’ll be one child, hiding at the back of the classroom, who will leave with fewer qualifications, and fewer prospects, than their peers. His or her talent and ambition never fully exploited, because for one reason or another, ‘average’ was always considered good enough.

That’s why we are taking action to intervene in coasting or failing schools – those which allow children to get by on ‘good enough’ instead of stretching them to their full potential. Because if we continue to fail these children, then we fail a fundamental test of a fair society.

Yesterday’s National Audit Office report, ‘Funding for Disadvantaged Pupils’ – told us that when it comes to the pupil premium, schools face some important challenges.

Challenges around how we can disseminate what works, how we can get more schools to review what they do with the money, and how to make the profession even more evidence-based.

Applying the premium in a scatter-gun fashion, with the assumption that it will find its way to those who need it, is not transformative enough. The needs of an inner-city pupil will differ greatly from a young person at a coastal school. Careful application of the funding will see it reaching the most disadvantaged children.

Research from the Education Endowment Foundation has already revealed so much about how schools can sensibly spend money to improve the outcomes of disadvantaged pupils:

  • that extrinsic rewards like money or free tickets have very little effect on teenage motivation and GCSE grades
  • that at a minimal cost, memorable trips and storytelling sessions can vastly improve the writing skills of year 6s and 7s
  • and the ‘Thinking ,Talking, Doing Science‘ approach has been effective in raising science grades of girls, in particular

So I see the Education Endowment Foundation as a key partner in helping schools to spend the premium more strategically, and to put what works into practice.

Like the work of Ark Charter Academy in Portsmouth, who have introduced longer school days. Or the parental workshops of Parkfield Community School in Birmingham. Both schools have boosted the attainment of their pupils, and I want innovation like this to be the norm, not the exception.

And I want to challenge every school to follow the progress of their most disadvantaged children ever more closely. And realise that the work isn’t over when they get the funding, that is just beginning.


Ladies and gentlemen, a good education remains the first step on a journey towards a brighter and more prosperous future.

I know that the best schools and teachers are working day in and day out to make this a reality.

The pupil premium is not simply an illusion of extra support.

With limitless ambition – the real spoils of success will be the disadvantaged students who complete their studies on an equal footing – and the plentiful opportunities that then await them.

Thank you for listening and enjoy your day.

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