Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Free School Meals for All Are Eating into Pupil Premium

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Free School Meals for All Are Eating into Pupil Premium

Article excerpt

Poorer parents are failing to register for the extra funding

The introduction of universal free school meals for infants will mean staff cuts and the loss of thousands of pounds for disadvantaged pupils, headteachers fear.

They are worried that pupil premium funding - worth £1,300 per child - will not be allocated because it depends on parents registering their children as eligible for free school meals (FSM). From this term, all four- to seven-year-olds are entitled to free lunches regardless of their parents' income, so a major reason for registration has been removed.

Martin Henderson, headteacher of Westmorland Primary in Stockport, said: "We stand to lose money if parents do not apply for free school meals on entry to our reception class. There is knowledge that meals are universal now, so there is that confusion. The incentive has gone."

He said that 60 per cent of his pupils were eligible for FSM but some new parents had not registered this year because they knew their children would get lunches anyway.

"At the moment, we think we stand to lose about £15,000," Mr Henderson said. "That may not sound like much but it amounts to a member of staff. The value of that teaching assistant working with a child cannot be denied."

The government's national pupil premium champion Sir John Dunford said schools were "rightly concerned" about the issue.

The Department for Education (DfE) has suggested that schools ask all parents to register for school meals. But headteachers say this will mean more bureaucracy and point out that it can be difficult to get parents to fill in forms.

The NAHT headteachers' union wants central government to take responsibility for identifying children who qualify for the pupil premium.

Another concerned headteacher, Debra Bailey from Rushey Mead Primary School in Leicester, said: "If the children are having meals anyway, the parents will not apply for free school meals because they won't need it."

She added that it would be a "shame" for their pupil premium funding to be reduced, as the extra money - £180,700 last academic year - was spent on staff, subsidised school trips, pastoral support, links with parents and resources like tablet computers for children from disadvantaged homes.

"If the government wants all children to have meals at school, they are going to have to find a different way of identifying pupil-premium children," Ms Bailey said. …

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