This is part one in a series of blogposts exploring long-term disadvantage. Other posts in the series can be found here.

Pupil Premium pupils are defined as those claiming free school meals at least once in the previous six years.

Given that there are three school census returns each year, the Pupil Premium group varies from those who have been eligible for free school meals just once in six years – i.e. in one out of the 18 termly census returns; about 6% of the total – to pupils who have been FSM-eligible on every occasion.

Why does this matter? It matters because back in 2014 we showed that there was a strong link between pupils’ attainment and progress, and the percentage of their time in school spent as FSM-eligible.

In this series of blogposts we will look at how things vary for different groups – and in particular, for those we will call long-term disadvantaged.

This group present the most challenge – they have low attainment and are improving less quickly than other groups.

Measuring attainment

There are various approaches used to measure attainment and progress, some of which can lead to misleading conclusions. For this series of blogposts we will use an approach, detailed here [PDF], which we call the FFT Index. It allows for the comparison of results over time, and across different Key Stages.

The chart below shows how the attainment of pupils who have been FSM-eligible one or more times since starting their schooling varies when compared to the attainment of pupils who have never been FSM-eligible. The difference in attainment is expressed as a percentage of the attainment of these Never FSM pupils.

The chart shows that:

  • for all Key Stages, pupils who have been FSM-eligible at any point have lower attainment than those who have never been FSM-eligible;
  • even if pupils have been FSM-eligible on just one occasion, their attainment is between 4% and 7% lower;
  • attainment falls steadily as the amount of time spent as FSM-eligible – as a proportion of the time spent in school – increases, with the impact being least at KS1 and most at KS4.

(It’s worth saying here that the nature of this percentage of time spent FSM-eligible changes a little over the Key Stages. By KS4, for example, when we’re talking about a child having been FSM-eligible for 90% of their time in school, that is 90% of a much greater amount of time than is the case at KS1.)

The next chart divides pupils who have been FSM-eligible one or more times since starting their schooling into four groups and looks at how their KS4 attainment (based on their average grade in GCSE subjects) has varied over time.

As we might expect from what we have seen already seen, the attainment of all four groups is lower than the national average, which under the FFT Index measure is 100.

However, although attainment has been improving for some groups – those FSM-eligible for less than 60% of their time in schools – the improvement has been small for pupils who were FSM-eligible for between 60% and 90% of the time.

And for pupils who were FSM-eligible on almost every occasion the school census is taken (90% or more of the time), their attainment, relative to the national average, has actually been falling.

This is the group that we’re going to refer to as the long-term disadvantaged.

Some successes

Long-term disadvantage clearly presents quite a challenge – so we might wonder if there are any schools that are managing to buck the trend.

The scale of the challenge can be seen by looking at how progress (value added) varies between schools in 2016.

If we are to close the Pupil Premium gap then the progress made by such pupils will need to be higher than the national average. Importantly, this needs to apply to the long-term disadvantaged group if they are not to fall even further behind.

As these numbers show, it is a minority of schools where the long-term disadvantaged have value added scores at or above the national average of 100:

In 2016 this was achieved by 12% of schools at KS2 (879 schools) and 7% of schools at KS4 (158 schools). If we look outside London and focus just on pupils who have English as their first language (for reasons that will become clear in the subsequent posts in this series) then these numbers drop to 479 and 84 respectively.

Whilst there are some signs of hope – the number of schools where disadvantaged pupils make average or better progress has been increasing over time – there is obviously a long way to go.

What can we learn from these schools? In the next blogpost we will look at two of them:

Now read the next post in the series.

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