Education cabinet members urge government to reverse funding loss for schools
Cabinet members in charge of education in each of South Yorkshire’s councils have co-signed a letter calling to reverse a loss in funding relation to free school meals and the pupil premium.
Written by Doncaster cabinet member for schools Coun Lani-Mae Ball and co-signed by councillors Jayne Dunn in Sheffield, Trevor Cave in Barnsley and Victoria Cusworth in Rotherham, the four call on education secretary Nadhim Zahawi to reverse changes on how funding is allocated in light of the pandemic.
The pupil premium was introduced in 2011 to help address the ongoing attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their more affluent peers.
Currently, pupil premium funding is paid to schools based on the number of pupils who claim free school meals or have claimed them in the past six years, and is set at £1,345 for primary-age pupils and £955 for secondary-age pupils.
In December 2020, the Department for Education announced it would be changing the basis of pupil premium funding so that payments would be based on the October pupil count, rather than the traditional January count and the councillors say many schools have lost out on funding as a result.
Coun Ball, in a letter to Mr Zahawi, said between the October 2020 and January 2021 census the number of pupils eligible for pupil premium in Doncaster has increased by more than 300 and has resulted in a funding shortfall of around £357,000.
In Sheffield this impact equates to approximately £600,000 for the most deprived families, in Rotherham £800,000 and Barnsley £374,000 Coun Ball added.
Coun Ball said: “With this change, pupils who became eligible for free school meals between October 2020 and January 2021 would not have qualified for free school meals in time to increase their school’s pupil premium funding.
“Therefore, this puts further pressure on schools to support in the absence of immediate funding to mitigate and provide the support that is required.
“We are asking you as Secretary of State and HM’s Government to consider this as an extraordinary circumstance raised by COVID circumstance and therefore something that should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
“Therefore, a shortfall in this very necessary and invaluable funding will impact significantly on our continuing efforts to ensure children are reconnected quickly and thoroughly with the learning opportunities that will maximise their academic progress.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Pupil premium funding has risen for the majority of schools, to more than £2.5 billion overall this year – an increase of £60 million compared to last year. Combined with our ambitious education recovery plan, this will ensure disadvantaged children are supported with their attainment.
“Using the October census for pupil premium allocations means schools will now know their full budget earlier in the year, helping them to plan ahead.
“Any pupil who became eligible after the October census will attract funding in the following year.”