A Tenth of Poor Pupils Fail To Claim Free School Meals: New research by the Department for Education has revealed that more than 160,000 students who would be eligible for free school meals are failing to claim their entitlement – costing schools millions of pounds in funding via the ‘pupil premium’.
More than a tenth – 161,400 – of pupils who are entitled to free school meals are currently not claiming them, with the proportion rising to almost two in five (38%) in the Bracknell Forest local authority. The failure not only means that poor families may be struggling unnecessarily, but also that the schools these pupils attend are missing out on millions of pounds of additional funding aimed specifically at poorer students.
The Coalition government, which has made the ‘Pupil Premium’ a key part of its attempt to raise standards in poor and deprived communities, currently offers £900 to every pupil eligible for free school meals in secondary school, and this figure rises to £958 for those in primary education. Across the country, these figures mean that schools may be missing out on around £145 million worth of funding. Ofsted has also recently warned that a ‘significant minority’ of schools are wasting the pupil premium available to them.
Free school meals are available to students who have parents either claiming benefits or who earn less than £16,190 per annum. The new research, which compares data about the number of children claiming free school meals with that for household income across England, suggests that whilst 21% of pupils (1.4 million) are eligible for free meals, only 18% actually claim them (1.25 million). This represents an ‘under-registration rate’ of 161,400, or 11%. In fourteen local authority areas, a quarter of more of pupils who are eligible for free school meals fail to claim them. As well as Bracknell Forest, other areas with high levels of under-registration include North East Lincolnshire, Slough and Wokingham, with number sitting at a little under a third.
Despite the large number of children still failing to register to free school meals, the figure of 11% is actually down on the same results from a year ago, when 14% of those eligible were failing to take up their entitlement.
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