UK & World News

  • 2 April 2014, 7:12

Free School Meals 'Could Mean Staff Lay-Offs'

Head teachers are warning the Government's free school meal policy may negatively impact spending on education.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) told Sky News as a result of the change "there will be a reduction in the pupil premium".

One head teacher suggested he "may have to lay off staff".

Universal free meals for infant pupils - unveiled last year by Nick Clegg - are due to launch in September.

Children from low-income families already get free lunches if parents notify the school of their circumstances. This then also qualifies the school for additional funding for education, called the pupil premium.

But it is feared the new policy will leave parents with less incentive to apply.

Tony Draper, head of Water Hall Primary School, near Milton Keynes, told Sky News: "There's going to be no incentive for parents to declare their eligibility for free school meals, which in turn is going to knock on to the pupil premium payments to schools, and that pays to employ staff to deliver specific interventions to the children to aid their education."

He added: "We will quite possibly end up having to lay off staff and children's education will suffer as a result."

Valentine Mulholland, policy advisor for the NAHT, told Sky News: "There will be an enormous amount of additional work and bureaucracy, and in some cases that work won't come to fruition and there will be a reduction in the pupil premium."

Schools in deprived areas are most reliant on this funding. The pupil premium is worth 900 per child rising to 1,300 next year.

Water Hall Primary School expects the scheme should raise 230,000 for the school next year, but Mr Draper estimates 22% of eligible parents do not claim for the pupil premium already, even with the free lunch incentive.

In January, Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote to head teachers acknowledging that some schools have expressed "concerns about the impact of this change on the pupil premium". He also says the Government is "considering how the pupil premium is allocated in the longer term".

Schools Minister David Laws told Sky News: "It's already the desire of our department to move in the future to a system where there's much more of an automatic collection of this information from parents on entry to school, because we want a situation where all children who are entitled to free school meals get them, and also that all children who are entitled to the pupil premium get them."

The minister would not put a timescale on when this might happen.

In a statement, the Department For Education said: "Schools will continue to receive pupil premium funding on the same basis as now.

"In local authority areas that have already introduced Universal Infant Free School Meals, such as Islington and Durham, schools have seen an increase in free school meal registration. There is no reason why this should not be repeated across the country.

"There will continue to be a very strong incentive for parents to sign up - at 1,300 per child the pupil premium will mean significant extra support for their child. Schools also have a very strong incentive to identify eligible parents."

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