Today I have the pleasure of attending the Pupil Premium Awards 2016, and celebrating those schools which have found the most effective ways of using their Pupil Premium funding to help disadvantaged young people. This vital funding, worth £2.5 billion this year, is aimed at helping schools improve the opportunities for their most disadvantaged pupils, and all 21 of today's finalists have shown clever and imaginative ways of using it.
From Sunderland to Plymouth, from Salford to London, hundreds of schools across the length and breadth of the country showed an interest and applied for the Awards. To have reached the last 21 is a remarkable achievement and something for which they should feel rightly proud.
Among the finalists I have seen many wonderful examples of what can be achieved with the pupil premium. I have seen one school form a partnership with a local museum, so pupils can take part in activities and learn vital skills. I have seen another school offering enriching extra-curricular activities as diverse as judo, cooking and Arabic. And I have seen a school running a breakfast reading club where students are collected by minibus and brought into school for a breakfast reading session with mentors.
This is just a small sample of the kind of work the schools have been doing to help improve outcomes for their disadvantaged pupils. Every one of the finalists has its own story to tell about how it arrived at today's final, and when I speak to staff and pupils I want to hear as many of these stories as possible. As Education and Childcare Minister, some of the most satisfying days I have are those when I come face to face with teachers and pupils to see what their hard work and professionalism can achieve. Today is one such day.
No awards ceremony is complete, of course, without prizes, and the prizes on offer this year are exciting and culturally enriching opportunities for pupils and teachers, including visits to world-renowned museums and performances of Shakespeare's plays. These are meaningful rewards: broadening the cultural horizons of the most disadvantaged pupils is, I believe, absolutely fundamental to improving their prospects.
Perhaps the biggest prize of all, though, can be provided by the winning schools themselves in the example they set others around the country. I know from my visits to schools that teachers work incredibly hard to help their most disadvantaged pupils, and running through our recently announced White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, is the ambition to help every child, irrespective of their background, fulfil their potential.
But, as our White Paper also emphasises, it is important that schools do not work in isolation, and draw from the good practice of others, and that is my hope for today. I hope that schools around the country will see just what can be achieved through the Pupil Premium, and go on to do great things themselves.
Today, though, is for our finalists. Through their dedication and hard work they have achieved so much for the pupils who need their support the most, and I salute them all.