New free school meal figures confirm multimillion loss to North East schools

New free school meal figures have confirmed a multimillion-pound funding loss for the region’s schools.

In March, together with North East Child Poverty Commission and Schools North East, we wrote to the Secretary of State for Education, highlighting the potential impact an ‘administrative’ change to the way in which pupil premium funding is allocated would have for schools in the North East.

The calculation for pupil premium has been changed by the Government so that it will now be based on the number
of pupils at each school eligible for free school meals (FSM) in October, rather than January, as has previously been
the case.

New figures published by the Department for Education confirm that there was an increase of 5,700 pupils in
receipt of Free School Meals across the North East between the school census of October 2020 and that of January 2021. This
means that schools in the region are facing a loss of up to £7.66 million in pupil premium funding as a result of the
Government’s change.

So the three organisations have written to the Education Secretary again today strongly urging him to reverse this decision, now that the scale of the funding loss for schools and pupils in the region is clear.

Read the full letter here

The new data also highlights the significant economic impact of Covid-19 on North East families, with almost 16,000
more pupils in the region becoming eligible for FSM between January 2020 and January 2021. This means almost
109,000 children and young people in our regions are now eligible to receive this support – 27.5% of all pupils, up
from a pre-pandemic 23.5% – the highest rate in the country, and joint steepest increase of anywhere in England.

Luke Bramhall, Poverty Proofing & Participation Service Manager at Children North East, said:
“Pupil premium is used by schools to provide extra teaching staff, breakfast clubs, additional resources like laptops
and tailored support for their most disadvantaged students – indeed, during the pandemic it has been used by
schools in the North East to provide support directly to struggling families.

“It is difficult to understand how removing almost £8 million of this funding from schools across our region – which has experienced some of the worst learning losses a result of Covid-19 – matches up with the pledge to build back better from the pandemic.”

Director of the North East Child Poverty Commission, Amanda Bailey, said:
“Schools in our region went into this pandemic already facing some of the highest rates of disadvantage in the
country and the new free school meal figures confirm just how starkly existing levels of hardship in the North East
have been exacerbated by Covid-19.

“If the Government is serious about levelling up areas like our region, it must put investing in children and young
people at the heart of its recovery plans – but it’s now clear that the decision to change the way pupil premium
funding is allocated totally undermines that commitment.”

Schools North East Director, Chris Zarraga, added:
“The North East is seeing significant Covid-related increases in poverty, including in schools not located in areas of
high deprivation, highlighted by the increase in the number of students eligible for pupil premium.

“School budgets are already suffering due to continuing outgoing costs of Covid safety measures, and the decision to use the October 2020 census data will have a serious detrimental impact on our students who have already suffered significant disruption over the last year. Any short-term savings made by using the October census will be more than offset by the longer-term economic losses to the region of not properly supporting our students to ‘recover’.”