A new financial year is dawning, and a new pot of money has become available to Little Chick’s nursery. I speak of the much-fabled Early Years Pupil Premium. Nursery have experience of Pupil Premium payments – the government scheme introduced in 2011 to help children on free school meals and those with parents serving in the forces close the attainment gap between them and their peers – and have successfully administered the fund in the past. This is their first instance of Pupil Premium Plus, though that distinction is not made at this age: all payments are EYPP. Rather, this is the first time a child has been eligible based on this criterion. Pupil Premium Plus is allocated only to looked after or previously look after children. Rather than focus solely on attainment, the Department for Education’s acknowledges the enduring impact of trauma and loss in children’s lives and the key role of schools in supporting children who have had a difficult start in life. At this level, the payment is the same for both groups, but school aged children who qualify for Pupil Premium Plus will receive a larger payment than those issued Pupil Premium payments.
Payment is made directly to the education provider (in our case, nursery) and they have a legal responsibility to determine how this money will be spent, show proof of spending, and demonstrate how the intervention has succeeded. Little Chick’s nursery was happy to involve us in the process and our suggestions alongside their knowledge informed how the money was spent. I understand that not all settings involve parents like this. I also understand that while this money must be accounted for it is not necessarily ringfenced. As the only recipient of Pupil Premium Plus, his allocation was spent entirely on him, meeting his needs, though we were keen that if we could ‘piggyback’ other children we would.
Following PAC-UK’s advice (you can read their excellent summary document here), we considered Little Chick’s needs as a previously looked after child and recognised that permanently placed children can struggle with the following:
- Attachment relationships with adults
- Managing their peer relationships
- Managing their feelings and behaviour
- Coping with transitions
- Developing their executive functioning skills
We grouped our existing ideas under these headings and used them as starting points to consider new ones. Some ideas were able to build on more than one category at a time. For example, using some of the money on staffing would allow more 1:1 time with his key worker, which would enforce his attachment relationships with adults. Using that time to play with resources and read books (bought with the allowance) would help him manage his feelings and behaviours. Some of these books would help him understand peer relationships better and purchases of outdoor toys (especially for messy play, his favourite) and activities, included seeds and composting for growing, would allow opportunities to build better peer relationships. Having identified other children that would be moving to the same school as him and/or had similar needs, he would be encouraged to spend time with them and when he needed a buddy for special activities they would be chosen as partners. Growing vegetables together would help develop executive functioning skills, such as planning and prioritising, impulse control, and self-monitoring. Additionally, they would learn about how things grow and the importance of eating healthily. This and other activities would also prepare Little Chick for coping with the inevitable transitions of the next few months, most notably leaving nursery and starting school.
Little Chick’s speech has developed, but he remains under the instruction of the speech and language therapist, until at least the end of the month, so this did not need to be prioritised. His social care skills are still behind his peers, so this would be one of the topics his key worker might approach in the 1:1 sessions.
Update (July 2019): We have been pleased with how the EYPP money was spent and the impact it has had. Most, if not all, of the initiatives have been a success. Additionally, his speech and language therapist is pleased with his progress. She will seem him again when he is in school so that she can observe him in the new setting but doesn’t expect any problems. She also suggested some flashcards for nursery to purchase to aid conversations and work specifically on some of the areas where he could improve.
It is a little frustrating that the money wasn’t paid earlier in the academic year, so that he could have gained greater benefit, but that is beyond our control. The resources will continue to help other children, so that’s something. That little library of big feelings books is Little Chick’s legacy. Similarly, it seems a shame that the amount paid to three- and four-year olds is significantly less than school aged children. Surely, more could be achieved with younger children, warranting a larger rather than smaller investment. But that is a political debate and one I am not prepared or capable of arguing today. Ultimately, I’m grateful for any provision that helps Little Chick meet his potential and help overcome the effects of early years trauma. However, I’m deeply saddened that it is needed.