The Guardian reports that around 50,000 more school children in England could get free school meals next year, after the government announced a switch to means-testing to cope with the roll-out of its controversial universal credit programme.
But the Department for Education has refused to bend further and allow automatic enrolment for disadvantaged children, forcing schools and councils to prompt families to sign up for free meals and pupil premium payments worth around £1,000 per pupil for their school.
The announcement ends the considerable uncertainty around eligibility for free school meals (FSM) and the impact of the government’s much-delayed universal credit package replacing the existing suite of benefits.
The National Association of Head Teachers welcomed the announcement but expressed dismay that the government had again failed to make FSM enrolment automatic using government tax and benefit records.
“The data already exists, it just needs to be shared with schools. Automatically registering children for the Pupil Premium would put a serious dent in social inequality,” said Paul Whiteman, the NAHT’s general secretary.
The consultation says around 10% of pupils currently eligible for FSM would lose out under the new rules. The DfE said it would guarantee that all children currently receiving free meals would continue to do so.
Pupils still receiving FSM once the transition is complete will continue to receive FSM until they finish primary or secondary school.
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