View from the chamber: Not all parents eligible for free school meals apply for their child
Cllr Ketan Sheth, Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee
- Credit: PA
Pupil Premium funding for our most disadvantaged children, based on the number of children eligible for free school meals (FSM) data collated every January, provides critical funding to schools for essential resources, which in turn benefits all children. Each FSM successfully registered increases the funding to schools, a substantial amount of which does not reach schools because not all parents who are eligible apply for FSM for their child.
New government conditions have seen a change in how it is calculated. By shifting from a January date, for calculation, to the previous October date, a stretched borough, such as Brent, now, will have 900 fewer secondary school pupils eligible, amounting to a loss of £860K in their budget.
Pupils at primary schools fare a little better in Brent; but the picture elsewhere in the country is less kind – 62,000 fewer eligible pupils in primary schools in England, according to FFT Education Datalab analysis of the Department of Education recent figures.
The need for FSM and eligibility is rising, as are casual admissions all year round, due to changes in family incomes. This change results in £90m missing from budgets when schools have already been under intense pressure with lockdown and are attempting to build-up again as we recover following Covid-19.
The result means that the government has introduced a detrimental lag in funding, which will introduce a current year saving; but will impact on the much needed essential support for children who have had the greatest challenges of home-learning throughout the pandemic and now beyond.
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We are often reminded of the mantra: “every child matters”; if we are serious about levelling-up everywhere then we must rethink this decision and how we best support our children, so no child is disadvantaged. The time between September, the start of the school year, and January allows for an accurate reflection of school children in need of FSM; and therefore, a school's requirement for Pupil Premium. The timing is essential to promote and ensure effective communication with parents/carers, enabling them to register for FSM.
There is some speculation amongst headteachers that the government may overhaul or perhaps completely remove the funding – this will be catastrophic and a retrograde step for the levelling-up agenda.
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Cllr Ketan Sheth is chair of the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee, Brent Council