Guest Blog by Terry Waller: Pupil Premium, Can IT Help to Close the Gap?

Pupil Premium funding: The current landscape

The Pupil Premium funding provided by government to support potentially disadvantaged pupils is a unique opportunity for schools throughout England to narrow the attainment gap. But how to use the money most effectively?

Ofsted’s July 2014 update report into the current uses of funding is generally positive, noting that the efforts of good leaders and teachers are helping to improve outcomes for eligible pupils. But it strikes a note of caution by acknowledging that it will take time to narrow the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.

Moving towards a personalised learning approach

The evidence-informed strategies laid out in the Educational Endowment Foundation (EEF) Teaching and Learning Toolkit, which are often referenced by government, point to the most cost-effective ways of using resources in a time of financial constraint. But there is a danger of applying these strategies in a blanket fashion, rather than selectively to help the pupils who will benefit the most.

As to the uses schools are making of Pupil Premium, Ofsted found that the most common is the funding of additional staff, with primary schools more likely to use the money to employ additional teaching assistants (TAs). With Ofsted’s requirement that schools provide evidence of progress in narrowing the attainment gap, it may soon be necessary to ensure that any TA supporting Pupil Premium pupils is appropriately trained, and able to demonstrate how the support that they provide has a direct impact on the learning progress.

Meanwhile, at secondary level, the ‘Cracking the Code’ report (Social Mobility and Poverty Commission, 2014) ushers in changes to how school performance is measured. These will be introduced in 2016 and are likely to mean that schools will need to focus more resources on core academic subjects and raising the attainment of the whole ability range.

To provide guidance, Ofsted highlighted the following recommended uses of Pupil Premium funding, in a 2013 report:

• Laptop computers/good quality ICT – for learning support and outside of school hours to develop widervocabulary and research skills, and supported self-study
• Intensive individual tuition
• Training teachers and teaching assistants to improve the use of feedback (at all levels)
• Targeted/tailored and highly individualised approaches to meet individual needs, based on rigorous useof data and good knowledge of pupils

In their view, “[the] major differences between outstanding or good, and those that are judged as requiring improvement or inadequate, are the extent to which leaders ensure that the funding is very carefully  targeted at the types of activities that best meet the needs of their pupils, and the rigour with which these activities are monitored, evaluated and amended”. (Ofsted, 2014)

These factors support strategies that provide more personalised learning approach for all learners, at both primary and secondary level. This is emphasised by the ‘Raising the Achievement of Disadvantaged Children’ policy document, in which the government emphasises something that good teachers, leaders and parents have always known: that every child is different and that teaching and learning strategies need to be designed with each pupil in mind.

The role of IT narrowing the attainment gap

To create engaging classroom resources that are more closely targeted at the needs of individual pupils, many teachers are now turning to multi-media.

Teachers recognise that incorporating the use of multi-media resources into the classroom can help realise the potential of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learners – something that is central to much current educational theory and practice.

Specifically, there is a growing trend for using audio resources to scaffold the writing process for pupils with learning difficulties such as dyslexia, and to bring oracy skills into line with government targets. Using audio-centric educational software to capture, analyse and annotate recordings made by pupils is a time and cost-effective method of providing evidence of progression. These recordings can be used to compare the skills and abilities of pupils. They can provide a medium to support pupils who are struggling and to evidence deeper understanding. And they can help pupils who find it hard to express themselves in writing; for example those pupils for whom English is not the language spoken at home.

Here are some of the ways that teachers can use audio-centric educational software in the classroom:

• recording lessons discussion or debates
• tracking speaking and listening development
• capturing ideas prior to writing
• recording interviews
• developing understanding of social interaction and conventions
• creating memory development games and activities
• helping with language learning
• teaching English as an Additional Language
• creating review and revision resources
• developing subject-specific language across the curriculum

The applications of Sonocent Audio Notetaker

Sonocent Audio Notetaker has been designed to support the tasks above and to make them easy, productive and traceable in terms of progress. Teachers, special needs experts and TAs have used the software to further the progress of pupils at both primary and secondary levels.

Audio Notetaker is a flexible and responsive learning tool for teacher and pupil. The software visualises recordings taken on a computer or mobile device in chunks (phrase-by-phrase). The pupil or teacher can then play the recording back, highlighting key phrases and adding text and images to the same workspace. This turns listening from a passive process into an active one.

Teachers can use the software to help pupils with progressively more sophisticated tasks, depending on the learning objective, context and skill level. In addition, the software gives pupils, teachers and supporting staff greater influence and visibility over the learning and progress made by the pupil.

Audio Notetaker can capture thoughts and ideas to evidence capability and progress. The audio can be played back, edited or manipulated (shortened/re-sequenced) and text annotations added. This file can then be turned into a presentation, or stored as an electronic learning portfolio in tandem with many VLE based products.

Pupils can also use the software for guided reading or speaking and listening activities, with tasks set by the teacher, teaching assistant or speech and language therapist. By saving these Audio Notetaker files, teachers can provide an objective record of the progress made by the pupil. The software also supports presentation skills. Pupils can practice their delivery alone or in pairs, analysing their phrasing, tone and inflection, before speaking in front of class. The software’s annotation features can be used as evidence of progression. Audio Notetaker provides a means for capturing and analysing levels of pupil participation in group discussions – both to encourage quieter pupils to speak up and to tone down those who tend to dominate discussions. Case studies show that listening back to recordings of class discussions can have a positive impact on the levels to which both types of pupils communicate in class.

Within Audio Notetaker, you can play back an audio recording of a pupil speaking and move the phrases around on screen to develop sentence construction skills. With support and guidance the software could also be used to engage parents in their child’s learning and to support literacy and the wider curriculum. In summary, closing the attainment gap is not only about supporting pupils who are encountering barriers to learning. It is also about maximising opportunities for more able pupils. The flexibility of Audio Notetaker supports this by allowing for extension and enrichment activities to be tailored to match and develop pupils’ capabilities. Furthermore, the software lets pupils take control of their learning experiences and can reduce the need for intervention from teachers and supporting staff.


Pupil Premium funding is available to support disadvantaged learners and help narrow the attainment gap. Personalising the learning offer is key to achieving this, utilising evidence informed strategies aligned with the school’s existing strategies for inclusion and improving outcomes for all. Content-rich materials, drill-andpractice software, coupled with teaching strategies suggested by the EEF Toolkit, are part of the solution. Providing personalised and individualised learning opportunities requires framework software, and the best of these create a safe and motivating environment for learners to demonstrate understanding and achieve success. Audio Notetaker, with its wealth of options to capture and manipulate recorded speech and discussion, to add annotations, images and graphics, and to record and demonstrate progression, does precisely that and is a key tool for schools striving to close the attainment gap.


Ofsted (2013) The Pupil Premium: how schools are spending the funding successfully to maximise achievement. Ofsted, Manchester. [ funding-successfully-maximise-achievement].

Ofsted (2014) The pupil premium: an update. Ofsted, Manchester. [ update]. Education Endowment Foundation - Teaching and Learning Toolkit [http://educationendowmentfoundation.]. 

Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (2014) Cracking the Code: how schools can improve social mobility. Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, London. [ publications/cracking-the-code-how-schools-can-improve-social-mobility].


About the author

Terry Waller has over forty years’ experience of working in education, including more than twenty years working at a national level on supporting major ICT initiatives where he championed diversity and equity. As Head of Inclusion Policy at Becta, he worked closely with the Education Department and other agencies, local authorities and charities to support the inclusive use of technology in schools.

Dec 07

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