Free School Meals Lose Pupil Premium Funding
March 18, 2015
It’s now over six months since the Universal Infant School Meals initiative was launched. The logistical and financial problems of providing KS1 pupils with free school meals are now in the past. But it seems that schools are finding new issues to contend with when it comes to funding.
Not every school is getting a slice of the pie when it comes to Pupil Premiums and additional funding.
When the scheme launched in September 2014, its large implementation cost had been a big headache for many schools. Some had to move funds around and cut back on other areas, such as school IT, to pay for catering equipment and upgrading dining facilities. However, despite all the logistical problems, 98% of primary schools in England managed to carry out the scheme at the beginning of school in September.
Since the introduction of UIFSM, the number of parents registering for pupil premium has dropped by as much as 50% for some schools.
In October 2014, The Department for Education announced an extra £20 million in capital funding to help schools struggling to deliver UIFSM. More than 780 schools applied for funding, of which only 123 were successful. Those not granted additional funding expressed concerns on their ability to continue with the scheme.
However, it seems that capital funding was only part of the issue. Six months on, schools are finding more financial problems associated with the scheme in the form of reduced pupil premiums. And if not addressed, could mean serious trouble for schools’ finances and continued development.
Schools lose money over free school meals
Pupil Premiums are an important source of funding for schools, which help them afford valuable support to ensure that disadvantaged pupils are not left behind by their peers. For each primary school pupil registered as eligible for the premium, the school gets £1,300 in additional funding.
In order for schools to receive this funding, eligible parents must register their children as able to receive free school meals, so the school can apply for Pupil Premium based on the number of FSM eligible students. But since the introduction of UIFSM, the number of parents registering for pupil premium has dropped by as much as 50% for some schools.
In early March, a news report featured in the Guardian followed the progress of Emma Payne, Head Teacher of St Mary Redcliffe Primary in Bristol, where she claimed that since the introduction of UIFSM, fewer parents at her school are claiming their FSM. As a result, she’s expecting her school to lose £9,240 in Pupil Premium funding. That’s a big chunk of money that could go towards employing one teaching assistant or buying extra learning resources for the children.
The solution to this problem seems quite simple. Schools should just go ahead and ask parents to claim their children’s FSM. That’s exactly the recommendation offered by Henry Dimbleby, co-author of the School Food Plan, when he tweeted last year that ‘the trick’ to getting parents to claim their FSM was simply ‘to ask them’.
But, it’s not as easy as it seems. As head teachers and school business managers informed Dimbleby, they’ve been doing exactly that for years. They need to, since thousands of pounds of Pupil Premium funding depends on their FSM numbers.
Schools have trouble getting parents to register for FSM
Payne explained that even before the introduction of UIFSM, it was impossible for schools to persuade all eligible parents to claim FSM. For some parents, it’s a matter of pride not to claim their benefits. For others, it’s just more paperwork they can do without.
Now that school meals are free, parents can’t see the benefits of signing up. After all, the money goes to the school and not directly to them. And without parents applying for FSM, schools do not know who is eligible for Pupil Premium.
To tackle this deficit, some local authorities have taken matters into their own hands. Bolton and Liverpool local authorities are proactively identifying children entitled to FSM from the benefit data they hold, with the latter claiming that 1000 FSM awards are made each year as a result.
In Liverpool, if families claiming benefits have school age children, the children are automatically deemed eligible for free school meals, even if parents haven’t applied. If parents don’t want their children to be listed as receiving FSM, they are given the opportunity to opt out.
Bolton, as a much smaller local authority, has a different approach. It is using specifically designed benefits application forms and software that’s able to identify children eligible for FSM. This data is then shared with schools through a regularly updated website which is available for head teachers to view.
This now means schools can identify which of their pupils are entitled to FSM benefits that aren’t claiming. This allows schools to approach families individually rather than sending out letters to everyone, resulting in a much better success rate of getting parents to register their child for FSM benefits, allowing the school to claim the much needed Pupil Premium funding.