Governor says Essex schools are missing out on vital funding after free meal policy introduced

Are schools missing out on pupil premium funding?

Are schools missing out on pupil premium funding?

Schools across north Essex could be missing out on millions of pounds of extra funding under changes brought in by universal free school meals.

The pupil premium is given for children who are eligible for free school meals – families who receive benefits – or who have done within the past six years.

However, as parents no longer register for free school meals at infant school age because all children now get them, schools do not get automatic notification of who they can receive the premium for.

Instead they rely on parents telling them if they are eligible – but many do not for a number of reasons, including a perceived stigma.

Essex County Council does not have an estimate of how many people are eligible for the premium, as opposed to those who actually claim.

A spokesman added: “There is no requirement for parents of infant pupils to apply for a free school meal because there is automatic entitlement to it. Individual schools are responsible for identifying, in their statutory school census returns, those pupils who they have established are eligible for the pupil premium.

“In order to assist schools with this process, Essex County Council offered a service to help identify relevant children. About 300 schools accessed this service.”

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Sheila Tames, chairman of the governing body at St Peter’s Primary School in Coggeshall, said their school, which had accessed the service, had seen the number of children receiving pupil premium fall from 25 to just five.

The pupil premium is equivalent to £1,300 per child at primary age, meaning the school has suffered a £26,000 drop in income.

If each of the 143 infant and primary schools in Braintree, Colchester and Tendring saw a similar fall the amount of lost funding would total £3.718million.

Mrs Tames said: “It is definitely an issue, if an unintended consequence. It is a major amount of funding, and at every school funding is getting tighter and tighter.

“Our village has about 5,000 people and its relatively affluent, but there are pockets where people are on benefits. Some schools are far worse off.

“We have lost maybe three or four at the top end of year six who are leaving. But we have never had a drop like that before.

“It is the shift from having it all done at a distance. We have sent letters, some schools have offered vouchers.

“It is the law of unintended consequences. Government won’t flag it up because if it is not being applied for it is not their fault – and they are saving themselves a lot of money.

“This is money to provide extra help for those children who need the help – the national statistics are very clear.”

Department for Education figures show in the 2014-15 financial year there were 22,520 primary school children (Key Stages One and Two) eligible for pupil premium in Essex, 20.7% of the total, and the county received £518,000 in funding.

Essex County Council said 8,605 pupils last year at infant school level were eligible for the premium.

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