Change in pupil premium cut-off date 'cost Suffolk schools £1.1m'

The application process for primary, infant, junior and middle school places in Suffolk is closing soon

The date to apply for pupil premium funding was changed this academic year (file photo) - Credit: PA

Suffolk schools missed out on more than £1million of pupil premium funding - after the date for deciding how many children were eligible was moved, it has been claimed.

However, Conservative councillors have hit back at the Labour claims - saying that schools have received other funding increases to cope with the impact of the Covid pandemic.

The pupil premium is a grant awarded to schools to help disadvantaged young people improve their progress. Typically, primary schools get £1,345 per eligible pupils, while secondary schools get £955 per student.

The number of pupils deemed eligible for pupil premium funding - and therefore the amount of cash schools receive - is calculated in January each year.

However, for the current school year, the government moved the date for deciding who was eligible forward to October 2020.

A Freedom of Information request to Suffolk County Council has revealed 872 students in the county's schools became eligible for the scheme after the cut-off date last October.

The Department for Education (DfE) said the decision was made to help schools budget earlier in the year and plan ahead, with pupil premium funding expected to increase to £2.5billion next year as more students become eligible.

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However, Labour councillors in Suffolk have branded the move as an "accounting trick" that has hit disadvantaged children the hardest.

Jack Abbott, Labour spokesman for education at Suffolk County Council, estimated the change of date meant £1.1m of funding was not received in the scheme.

Jack Abbott said the difficulties for families will get worse. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

JAck Abbott, Labour spokesman for education at Suffolk County Council - Credit: Archant

He said: "This is about as low as it gets. The Conservatives have used an accounting trick which will see schools miss out on desperately needed funding at the worst possible time.

"This has been such a difficult year for so many families, with people losing their jobs or seeing their income fall.

"There has obviously been huge disruption for children too, yet the Conservatives have chosen a global pandemic to cut the funding designed to support them."

Mary Evans, Conservative cabinet member for education at Suffolk County Council, said: "Sadly, there has been some misinformation from the Labour Party, yet again, about the level of support provided by the government for struggling Suffolk families and children since the start of the pandemic.

Mary Evans

Conservative Mary Evans, cabinet member for education at Suffolk County Council - Credit: Gregg Brownn

"In all, more than £5m has been allocated to support disadvantaged families in the county aside from the national £20 a week increase in universal credit and the furlough scheme.

"While it is calculated that schools will miss out in pupil premium, the Labour Party fails to acknowledge that schools in Suffolk received an extra £1.4m last October from the government because of the rise in children eligible for free school meals."

The DfE has also announced a one-off 'recovery premium' of £302m which will be targeted at schools most in need.