Why I wanted to be responsible for Pupil Premium at my school

20 Aug

Apologies in advance. The post that I’m writing is close to my heart and too much emotion might creep in but I think that this is a post worth writing…

“Girls, I’ve got the end of year photo to give to you all. If your parents have paid for a copy, please raise your hand and I’ll give you your copy.”

I raise my hand. I’m excited to get my first ever class photo. I’m nearly 13 and I remember brushing my hair and putting on a coat of Heather Shimmer Rimmel lipstick before they took the photo.

My tutor begins handing out the photos: she arrives at me.

“Look at you! Look how different you look to everyone. The blonde bombshell. You look like you belong to a comprehensive school.”

I could’ve died that day; I was mortified. When my tutor said that, other girls in my class laughed.

I was a scholarship girl.

My mum is Catholic and she wanted me to go to a Catholic school. I didn’t really know much about it; I turned up, answered some questions, and I passed.

It only became apparent as I became older that I was different. First of all, my family didn’t have any money for me to go on any trips. Most of the time, I hid from my mum and dad that there was a trip. I didn’t want them to know because I knew they didn’t have the money to send me on a trip to France or a skiing trip to Switzerland.

So I didn’t go. I made up some excuse that I was already going away: but I wasn’t.

I went through school in a permanent state of alert. Every week I was in trouble. I had after school detentions, Saturday detentions, holiday detentions… Looking back, I feel so gutted for my mum who was on the receiving end of these notifications. She wanted the best for me but I was messing it up… Nearly every detention I received was for defiance. The problem was, I didn’t know I was being defiant – I was just being me…

“Deborah Light! Where are you going? I’ve been at this stall for three hours and you haven’t come to see me.”

These words seem pretty innocuous but they changed my life. My English teacher, Ms Long (now Dr Harper) stopped a stroppy, boisterous 16 year old down a corridor and had a go at her for not coming to the A level English stall to find out about the course.

“Sorry Ms Long – I didn’t come because English is the only subject I want to take. I don’t need to come because I already want to take it.”

“Ah, well, that’s alright then. See you in September.”

That was the first time someone had ever took a chance on me: stroppy Debbie, you can’t rely on her, she’s too unpredictable, you never know what she’ll do.

My mum thought she was doing the right thing by getting me into a private school. But it was the worst thing she ever did (I’ll never tell her this). I spent my whole time at school feeling like an outsider. I remember my head walking round the playground with me after she’d moved me into another tutor group saying “This is your last chance, Debbie. If this doesn’t work out, I don’t know what we can do.”

Thank God for Ms Long. Thank God for English. No one in my family has ever been to university so I didn’t really think about applying…

“Where is your personal statement?” demanded Ms Long.

“Er, I don’t really know what I’m doing.”

“Do you love English?”

“Yeah, of course I do!”

“Then that is what you will read at university.”

If it wasn’t for Ms Long, I would never have gone to university. I had a job in Next and I was earning £5 an hour. I was also a really good tennis player and could earn extra money as a tennis coach’s assistant.

So why am I writing about this?

Well, I work at a school where if you are Pupil Premium, you might not do very well. In fact, your friends who are non-Pupil Premium might achieve considerably better than you.

And that makes me angry.

Every day, I come across kids like me who don’t know what opportunities are available to them. They aren’t embarrassed that they haven’t done their homework. They are happy to get a 5c when they could get a 5a because “that’s what my best mate got”. They end up in the bottom sets because they’re gobby and push the boundaries and seem (to those who don’t care to find out) a bit slow.

Two examples recently have stayed with me and made me realise the difference school can make to students’ life chances.

First, there’s Laura*. She is a Pupil Premium student – she’s spent nearly every Friday this year in senior leadership detention for truancy, failure to attend a previous detention or refusal to follow a senior member of staff’s instruction. But this is the same girl who comes to class having read the extract from Much Ado About Nothing and will argue to the death that Hero is a product of a misogynistic society. This is the girl who I texted her mother to tell her that her daughter had made fantastic progress in English this year. Her mum never told her. This is the girl who cried when she found out she would have a new teacher in year 10. “But it’s you, Miss, that makes me good.” No, Laura, you make yourself good.

And then there’s Abdul*, who works so hard but isn’t quite there yet… Who is so upset to get a 5a when he’s promised his mum he’ll get a level 6. His mum, who phones me up to tell me her son hasn’t read a book since year 6 because he’d rather play basketball. So I take Abdul* to the library at lunchtime to find a book he might like and we settle on ‘Pigeon English’. And he tells me three weeks later ‘Miss, don’t worry, I’m not gonna end up like Harri.”

These are my kids and I love them. I know that’s not what I’m supposed to say – not very professional – but I do. They are the ones that make me come to work. But I’m also sad that they’re statistically doomed. I want them to rise above their backgrounds and become successes.

During the summer term, I fought really hard to take responsibility for Pupil Premium at my school. When I spoke with friends in other schools, most responses were something like ‘Are you crazy? You’re going to be inspected again next year and it’ll be your head on the block.” But I don’t care. I want to make a difference to those students who might not have anyone fighting their corner, who don’t yet believe they are capable of great things.

Growing up, I had one teacher who saw past my bolshiness and took a chance on me. That’s a lovely story but there are too many in my school to just keep our fingers crossed and hope one teacher takes a chance on them.

We’ve got to get it right. I asked for this responsibility. I will be judged by the successes and failures of our Pupil Premium students. But I will not stop working until I teach in a school where everyone can succeed, regardless of their starting point.

*Names changed.

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7 Responses to “Why I wanted to be responsible for Pupil Premium at my school”

  1. mracalvert August 20, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

    Really enjoyed this post, Pupil Premium is so important to the success of individuals that need the most support.

  2. Jill Berry August 21, 2014 at 3:18 pm #

    A heart-rending post, Debbie – thanks for sharing it.

    And “These are my kids and I love them. I know that’s not what I’m supposed to say – not very professional – but I do.” Don’t ever feel the need to apologise for that. It will make you a better teacher and a better leader.

    I hope GCSE results day has gone well for you and your school.

  3. dodiscimus August 21, 2014 at 5:08 pm #

    What is unprofessional about loving the children you teach? I think it should probably be in the Teachers’ Standards! (Teacher’s Standard 0: Love the children you teach, at least some of the time). I guess evidencing it might be tricky.
    I think the only thing that I would say is that you always have to remember that poorer kids don’t do less well statistically just because schools treat them less well, they do less well statistically for a complex set of reasons, many of which are hard for schools to influence. Therefore you are right to want to do as much as you can to close the gap but if I were you I would judge myself on whether or not the number of success stories goes up, and whether or not your school has reached out to ensure that everyone has had that chance that you were given, rather than whether or not that gap closes completely. I know Ofsted will look at the data but it will be individual lives that you will actually change, and you probably can’t change them all. Best wishes!

  4. Primary1teacher August 21, 2014 at 11:10 pm #

    Very heart warming post. Nice to hear a very honest story. You worried but the passion came across as focused for the job ahead. Look forward to hearing how this year goes. All the best.

  5. jamestheo August 26, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  6. Shaun September 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    This is a really interesting post – linked to the Guardian article.
    How are your school planning to conduct appraisals without graded lessons?

    • teachertweaks September 29, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

      Hi Shaun, our appraisal is based on your commitment to CPD; our CPD model is carrying out a year long piece of action research using Lesson Study focusing on improving student outcomes. Then your results – if you’re main scale then FFTA or if you’re upper scale FFTD. You’re allowed to discount students who have under performed across the board.

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