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#Lightbulb Moment 3 How serious are you about tackling disadvantage in your schools ?

Disadvantage for a pupil premium/ free school meals child is not just about living in poverty! For many children they may be growing up in a household with very little money - my own children did until my youngest was around 13.

(Read the 'ABOUT' page for more information.)

My children never had foreign holidays, or designer clothes, or ate out in restaurants. Meals were basic and consisted of what was cheap and could be spread far enough. There was a time we lived on benefits and really struggled to avoid debt collectors and crippling debt.

However, my children will quickly tell anyone that they were not disadvantaged. They were surrounded by love, had a very happy childhood and have lots of lovely memories. All three have grown into well educated individuals, who are doing well within their chosen careers.

However, there is a legacy from these times. All three of them recognise the value of all they have and the need to work hard. All three of them grew up knowing that you get nothing for nothing!

Government and schools are full of white, middle class, privileged people. The vast majority have no concept or experience of living with hunger, wearing worn hand-me-down clothes and shoes, or living in fear of being at home within abusive or violent households.

This is not to say they should have - please do not understand me! I am simply saying that the decision makers, the people with the power over the support these children are given in schools, and who come into contact everyday with them, cannot possibly understand the barriers faced by these children before they even walk into school. Schools have every intention of making a difference - and that is commendable - but they do not always understand what would make the biggest impact for these youngsters.

Mu husband was a pupil premium pupil. Rather than accept the free school meal he was entitled to, he would walk the four miles to school so that he could save the bus fare and buy chips and beans ( all that he could afford because they were the cheapest on the menu) from the kiosk with his friends. He was desperate not to feel different. The result was that by the time he reached Key Stage 4, he rarely attended school at all. The effect on his confidence, his self esteem and self worth continued to have crippling repercussions for many years.

My youngest daughter , who teaches English at secondary level, noticed that when taking pupils from her group out on the bus for a sports day at the local stadium, only a very few children entitled to a free packed lunch would take one. The stigma and embarrassment they felt about having to take one of the paper bags, meant they would rather go hungry. It was only when she tipped all of the food into a box and circulated around, focusing on ensuring the PP children got first pick, that they would take something. Then they did not stand out at all because everybody else was helping themselves also.

Recently we have begun to think about what our most disadvantaged pupils REALLY need and how we can open solution focused discussions with them and really help by LISTENING to their responses with intent . We have done all of the usual things - all of them have had new chrome books and we have made sure they have access to the internet, we have put extra classes and intervention groups in, provided them all with free study and revision books. We have made sure that staff know exactly who they are. All the things and more that I am sure you are doing in your schools.

However, what we have really learnt by talking and listening to our pupils, is that we need to make sure we 'hear' what their barriers are and support them to remove, or at least lessen the effect, on an individual level. Every single one of them has a different issue and reality.

What these children need and want, more than catch-up classes and interventions and extra pressure in school, is somebody who understands the issues and barriers they face. Someone who has lived experience of it. Someone who they feel does not judge, but will be pragmatic, passionate and supportive in making sure they make a difference.

Who are your pupil premium champions? Do you even have them? Not teachers who are 'champions' to all, but dedicated champions whose sole role is to support these pupils? Are they the right people? Do you have one or more? How do you make them accessible to your learners? How much autonomy do you give them to do what needs to be done, and do they have access to a budget to be able to do that? Do you focus too much on the data and forget the impact of the 'softer stuff' - which actually makes the most impact for these children! Do your pupil premium champions know the names of EVERY single one of those children and, just as important, what are your systems for checking in on your PP pupils' and their families?

In effect, have you stopped and looked with forensic intent at what you provide for your pupil premium pupils and unpicked, deeply and critically, at the impact you are making?

One of our young learners was constantly late. He was an EAL learner but also pupil premium. Through the rapport built up with his PP champion, it came to light that his bike was broken and he was walking 8 miles to get into school. He wanted to learn and succeed, but the barriers he was facing on a daily basis where huge! We took his bike to a repair shop and gave it a full overhaul. He has not been late since! I could share so many stories like this with you.

Throwing money at extra in class intervention, marking PP books first, homework clubs and intensive tracking and monitoring of data does not have the biggest impact on disadvantaged learners. Very often the very real barriers and home lives some of these children face everyday, negates all the effects of just piling on more academic intervention. You cannot learn if you have significant issues to deal with outside of school, or if your head is to concerned with how to deal or survive the next crisis. Having the right people championing them, giving those people the tools and time they need to do an effective job, and making sure we really LISTEN to what the child needs is what makes the difference. We need to be the people that fill in those gaps, the people these children know will listen and not drown them with kindness and sympathy. That is NOT what these children need - they need passion, they need pragmatism and they need people determined to make the difference - whatever it takes!

To succeed we all need to have grit, resilience and support. Does your school's PP champion foster and teach that to your learners? Do you, as senior leaders, create the environment for that to happen effectively?

Get in touch if you would like to talk more about how I can help you.

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