Shameful: Up to 100,000 pupils fall foul of DfE's Pupil Premium rule change

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

The extent to which the government has “short-changed” schools has finally been revealed after official figures showed that up to 100,000 FSM children will not attract Pupil Premium funding this year.

School census data for January 2021 show that the proportion of pupils eligible for FSM has risen to 20.8 per cent – more than one in five school-aged children in England.

The rise shows the impact of Covid-19 on family finances. The latest figures compare to eligibility of 17.3 per cent in January 2020 and 19.7 per cent in October 2020.

It is this last figure that is important because an “administrative change” to how the Pupil Premium is allocated means that the Department for Education (DfE) moved to using October 2020 census data – and not the usual January 2021 census – to decide on Pupil Premium eligibility for the 2021/22 financial year.

It means that disadvantaged children who became eligible between October and January have not attracted Pupil Premium funding from April 2021. Instead they will have to wait until April 2022.

School leaders are furious at what they see as an underhand move designed to save money.

A study earlier this year estimated the potential impact of the change, concluding that £118m would be wiped off this year’s Pupil Premium budgets. The analysis by the Local Government Association estimated that around 70,000 primary pupils and 26,000 secondary pupils would miss out – 96,000 in total.

The DfE’s official figures have now confirmed the rise is in the region of 100,000, with the total number of FSM pupils now more than 1.7 million nationally.

While the row over the Pupil Premium calculation rumbles on, it should also be noted that the new figures mean that between January 2020 and 2021, an additional 300,000 children and young people have become eligible for FSMs.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The increase in FSM eligibility over the course of the pandemic illustrates the financial impact on many families. Child poverty was already a terrible blight on our society prior to coronavirus. The situation is now even worse and tackling this issue simply has to be a top priority for the government.

“These statistics also suggest the extent to which the government has short-changed schools by a technical change to the way in which Pupil Premium money is allocated. These statistics show that the number of pupils eligible for FSMs increased by 100,000 in this period which indicates a very large funding hole. Whatever the motivation for this change in the rules the result is nothing short of shameful.”

Jon Andrews, head of analysis at the Education Policy Institute, said the losses were not restricted to Pupil Premium funding: “These losses are found not only in the Pupil Premium itself but in other areas such as catch-up funding for disadvantaged pupils, which is closely linked to it. The DfE should now publish its analysis of the impact of this decision on Pupil Premium allocations and clarify whether any savings from this have been redistributed.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “We warned (the DfE) that making this change during the pandemic would have this consequence, as families have been hit hard financially by Covid-19. But our warnings fell on deaf ears.

“The government has made bold claims about their ambitions for recovery and said that no child will be left behind. But by implementing this change in the middle of the pandemic they have actively removed support for those children who are most in need of help.

“The government is giving with one hand while knowingly taking away with the other. This must be put right. Government can no longer ignore the concrete evidence of the rise in children eligible for free school meals, nor can they try to explain it away as a ‘technicality’. This is real money, affecting real children’s lives.

“They must come clean about how much they have saved with this change, and they must put that money back into school budgets immediately. We aren’t asking for additional money. Only for what schools would have received if this census date change hadn’t been implemented. If the government doesn’t take action, they will be abandoning those children most in need at the most critical time.”


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