Pupil Premium Funding Shake-up Needed?
July 27, 2016
The way Pupil Premium Funding is calculated could do with a shake-up, according to the head of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT). It can be argued, he believes, that the current set up is leaving schools short of the full level of funding their students’ need.
What is Pupil Premium funding?
Pupil Premium Funding is the extra money schools receive for pupils from underprivileged backgrounds. For qualifying students between reception year and year 6, schools receive an extra £1,320 per year. For older students, up to year 11, schools receive £935 per year.
Schools are free to spend that money in whichever way they see fit to improve education for these underprovided individuals. Overall it is a welcome initiative, but the way in which the number of qualifying students is calculated has its problem. Pupil Premium Funding is calculated from the number of pupils signed up for Free School Meals (FSMs).
Therefore, it’s dependent on schools encouraging parents to sign-up their children up for FSMs. Getting 100 per cent to do so is an almost impossible task. Indeed, the Government itself, back in 2013 estimated that some 11 per cent of eligible students were not signing up to the scheme.
That’s a lot of extra funding schools could be missing out on. And for many they are reliant on the additional income and missing out on ten per cent of it is a real problem. But it doesn’t end there either, because a Sutton Trust survey found that six per cent of school leaders admitted to spending their Pupil Premium Funding not specifically on improving education for the underprivileged students, but just helping to balance the books and cover overall budget cuts.
Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the NAHT, says the government has the data to just automatically register all eligible students. They know which students should be eligible for FSM, they just need to be willing to use it. They could automatically register students as eligible for FSM and therefore provide the appropriate level of Pupil Premium Funding.
There are number of problems with leaving it to schools to encourage parents to sign up. For a start, there will always be that small number of parents who are simply negligent. Then there are those with too much pride to admit they need the help.
And counter intuitively, the Universal Infant Free School Meal programme discourages parents who otherwise would sign up for FSMs from doing so, because in Key stage one years, their child will already receive FSMs regardless.
Russell Hobby’s solution of automatically signing students up for FSMs and Pupil Premium Funding therefore seems a good one. However, inevitably, this is something that is much easier said than done.
What can be done now?
In the current circumstances however, we also believe our FasTrak cashless catering solution actually helps schools both to encourage more FSM sign-ups, but also to accurately keep track of the FSM meals served and therefore receive the correct level of Pupil Premium Funding.
Some parents and students are reluctant to use FSM because of a perceived negative stigma. No child wants to be singled out from their peers in the school canteen as someone whose parents can’t afford to pay for the meal. What our cashless catering system does, is effectively hide who is paying and who is receiving a FSM.
All students collect and “pay” for their meal using their school smartcard or finger biometric. There is no difference between a smartcard where the payments are allocated by the school, or the smartcard that is topped up with cash by a parent. In this way we hide FSM in the background and prevent students from worrying about any negative stigma.
Our extensive meal reporting can also help schools as they have a clear record of how many FSM’s they serve each day. This ensures they get the right funding that their students deserve.
Pupil Premium Funding is a good initiative overall. However, with school budgets being squeezed, it is vital that schools get the most out of the system that they are entitled to, and automatic registration would be a big step forward if it could be achieved.