Free school meals policy impacting upon Pupil Premium funding

Nursery World reports that according to the ‘Evaluation of Universal Infant Free School Meals’, published today (24th Jan) by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), the UIFSM policy, introduced in September 2014, has led to a ‘rapid increase’ in school meal take-up from an estimated 38 per cent in 2013-14 to 80 per cent in 2015-16 (based on Office of National Statistics data).

However, the introduction of the policy has also had a negative impact on some schools’ Pupil Premium funding. Nearly a third of the school leaders (31 per cent) surveyed by the EPI reported a drop in the number of parents whose children are eligible for the Pupil Premium registering for free school meals since universal infant free school meals (UIFSM) came in.

One senior leader said that the money they gain through UIFSM, they have lost in Pupil Premium payments.

The evaluation, which is based upon a survey of senior leaders in 327 schools, a survey of 508 parents, individual visits to schools and analysis of previous research, examines UIFSM’s potential educational, social and health effects; how the policy has been implemented in schools; perceptions of its outcomes; and estimates the costs of the policy.

Key findings include:

  • Schools and caterers have incurred significant costs and have made many revisions to the delivery of food to implement UIFSM.
  • The policy has had significant financial benefits for parents, who save an average of 50 minutes not having to make packed lunches and £10 each week.
  • UIFSM has often supported, or been a catalyst for, wider efforts to improve the profile of healthy eating in a school, better engage parents and pupils, and develop the school food curriculum;

While the evaluation finds that the value of financial and time savings for families are greater than the cost of the policy to schools, it suggests delivering lunches on a budget is a challenge, and, if inflation rises in the future and Government funding rates remain the same, wider benefits of the policy could be undermined.

However, almost a third (31 per cent) of school leaders questioned said that take up of FSM for Pupil Premium purposes had decreased, which is highly concerning.  Too many children are still missing out on their entitlement. The burden is on parents to come forward to register for Pupil Premium and for schools to coax families into admitting they need help. 

‘The answer to getting this help to our most vulnerable pupils is obvious: the Government and local authorities have the eligibility data, it just needs to be shared with schools, we would like to see the government allow automatic registration for Pupil Premium. Automatically registering children for the Pupil Premium would have a huge impact on equality of opportunity, so that all children, whatever their background and wherever they live, have the same chance of an excellent education.’

Read the full article Free school meals policy impacting upon Pupil Premium funding

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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