An ‘administrative’ change to the way in which pupil premium funding is allocated to schools will leave schools in the region short between £5.16 million and £7.26 million in the coming financial year. The calculation for pupil premium has been changed by the government so that it will now be based on the number of pupils who were eligible for free school meals (FSM) in October 2020, rather than January 2021, as has previously been the case. Analysis of newly-available data suggests there was an increase of 5,400 pupils in receipt of FSM across the North East between the school census of October 2020 and that of January 2021, but schools won’t receive pupil premium funding for these students.
Regional organisations Schools North East, the North East Child Poverty Commission and Children North East have joined forces to write a letter to the Education Secretary to urge him to reverse this decision to change the way in which pupil premium funding is calculated, and to base the pupil premium calculation on the January 2021 census. The Department for Education has repeatedly committed to supporting our schools and ‘to do everything possible to ensure that no child, whatever their background, falls behind as a result of coronavirus.’ However, this change will seriously impact the ability of schools to support a growing number of disadvantaged students in the coming year.
Schools North East Director Chris Zarraga has said ‘In a year where many families have faced difficulties with furlough and widespread redundancies, the number of students eligible for pupil premium has increased. However, this decision from the government means schools won’t receive the money they need to properly support those students, and existing high levels of deprivation and a wider gap in learning loss means that schools in our region are likely to be hit even harder than elsewhere. With school budgets already suffering due to continuing outgoing costs of Covid safety measures, this will have a serious detrimental impact on our students who have already suffered significant disruption over the last year.’
Director of the North East Child Poverty Commission, Amanda Bailey said ‘We all know the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on people’s lives and livelihoods and these new figures illustrate quite how stark that economic impact has been for thousands of families across our region, given how stringent the free school meal threshold currently is. It’s not right that some of the most disadvantaged pupils in the North East could lose the additional support they are entitled to as a result of this change, not least after the enormous upheaval they have faced to their education and wider lives over the last twelve months. Providing additional funding with one hand, whilst taking it away with the other totally undermines the Government’s pledge to support students through this pandemic.’
Children North East have seen first-hand the challenges many schools and their pupils are experiencing across the region. Some schools Children North East have worked with through their Poverty Proofing the School Day programme have implemented various initiatives as a result of the pupil premium funding. Assistant Principal at Kenton School, Sarah Price shared ‘In order to support our pupils who are in receipt of the pupil premium we have delivered weekly food parcels to families, supported with utility bills so that they didn’t go cold over the winter, provided access to the internet in order to ensure pupils were able to keep up with their home learning and funded transport to allow vulnerable pupils to attend during the closure.’