Schools across Herts miss out on £1.9 million of free school meal funding

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A Freedom of Information request to Hertfordshire County Council shows that an additional 1,518 pupils began claiming free school meals between October 2020 and January 2021 - Credit: PA

Schools across Herts will miss out on £1.9 million of funding, due to the way the government allocates money for disadvantaged children.

More than 1,500 children are hit by the funding changes, most of them of primary school age. 

Data retrieved from a Freedom of Information request to Herts County Council shows that an additional 1,518 pupils began claiming free school meals between October 2020 and January 2021; 1,153 of whom attend primary schools in our county.

But it seems that central government excluded these new claims for free school meals when calculating the Pupil Premium Grant for 2021-22. 

The Pupil Premium Grant - extra school funding designed to help the most disadvantaged children - will not be applied to the new claimants of free school meals after October 2020. The move leaves Herts schools short-changed by £1,899,360 this financial year.

Schools are given £1,345 for each primary and £955 for each secondary-age pupil who claims free school meals, or has done so in the last six years.

With central government not counting the new claimants, schools in Herts will miss out on the extra funding; £1,550,785 of which would have gone to primary schools and £348,575 of which would have gone to secondary schools. 

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Judi Billing, leader of the Labour group on Herts county council, said: “It’s absolutely appalling that the government is prepared to use such underhand tactics to deprive Hertfordshire and our most deprived families of funding that they desperately need."

Letchworth North councillor Tina Bhartwas, who received free school meals as a child, is the organiser for Hertfordshire Against Holiday Hunger. She said: "The fact the government is depriving our schools of funding and letting down our most vulnerable families is shameful and it is a pattern.

"Having relied on the pupil premium myself as a child I know the disastrous impact this will have on local families. The funding is a lifeline and I hope to see fierce opposition to this action by central government from the county council."

Daisy Cooper, St Albans MP and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for education, said: “Once again, disadvantaged school pupils in St Albans and Hertfordshire will lose out as the Tories prioritise penny-pinching over proper support.

“Liberal Democrats introduced the pupil premium because we know how vital it is to target support to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and close the gap – a gap that’s widened since the pandemic – between them and their peers. However, we’ve had to fight the Tories to keep it properly funded.

“By moving the goalposts on the entitlement criteria for the pupil premium, thousands of children whose parents have become unemployed in the past three months will not get the crucial support they need. This change has real potential to cause harm and will have a direct impact on the quality of education schools can provide for those who are in desperate need of more, not less, support."

She added: “The Conservative Government must listen to teachers about the reality on the ground, not pull support when it’s most needed. If they don’t urgently rethink this decision, they run the risk of more disadvantaged children falling behind.”

Conservative MP Grant Shapps, who represents Welwyn Hatfield, told this paper: “The government is continuing to provide additional funding to schools through the pupil premium to help them support disadvantaged pupils. In fact, this funding is expected to increase to over £2.5 billion in 2021-22, as more children have become eligible for free school meals.

"Moving to the October census simply brings the administration of the pupil premium in line with the rest of schools’ core budget. The move to the October census simplifies the funding system and provides schools and the government with greater certainty around future funding levels earlier in the year.

"We’ve supported pupils eligible for free school meals throughout the pandemic, sending parcels and vouchers when schools were shut during the most recent lockdown. It’s great seeing kids back in the classroom and, as we move cautiously out of restrictions, those eligible for free school meals can continue to receive them in their school or college.”

Cllr Terry Douris, Herts county council's executive member for education, has also been approached for comment.

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