Pupils not claiming free school meals

If you scoured the articles from some of Britain’s popular newspapers for their views on welfare , you could be forgiven for believing that welfare reform was justified, for no other reason than to curb the excesses of dependency, and to end an unfair benefits culture.

Without digressing into how such a discourse is employed as a hegemonic device, it is worth considering that the reality of the benefits culture is more complex.

Late last month, the Department for Education published a Research Report: Pupils not claiming free school meals.  The key findings from the research reveal that while 21% of children aged between 4-15 are entitled to free school meals (FSM), 18% of this age group are claiming this entitlement.  In other words, 14% of children who are entitled to FSM are not claiming FSM.  This is approximately 200,000 pupils.

Entitlement to FSM is based on receipt of specific benefits, however, families in receipt of these benefits have to register their entitlement through their child’s school or Local Authority.  The procedure for this registration varies between authorities and between schools.

Around a quarter of children entitled but not receiving FSM live in the South East.  In the North East there is a much lower non claimant rate, with Darlington, Hartlepool,  Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, and Stockton in the Tees Valley appearing to have 100% of claimants registering.  This may be due to authority wide efforts to ensure maximum registration. For example, my post  from last year looked at Middlesbrough Council’s efforts to urge parents to claim their entitlement. However, the reasons for not claiming FSM are complex, with analysis in this DFE report suggesting that children living in a less deprived area or attending a school with a low rate of FSM are less likely to claim their entitlement to FSM. In neighbouring, relatively affluent North Yorkshire  for example, there is a  high level of under claiming for FSM.  More research is needed to further understand the reasons behind these patterns.

This issue of under-claiming is not just significant for the individual children, but impacts on the funding a school can receive in the form of the pupil premium. The pupil premium is additional funding given to schools as a way of addressing educational inequalities between children from families who are socio-economically deprived and those from more affluent families.    Social scientists continue to discuss the usefulness of FSM as a proxy for deprivation given that receipt is not automatic.   McMahon and Marsh (1999) writing for CPAG discussed lack of take-up, more recently Hobbs and Vignoles (2010), Thrupp and Lupton (2011) have all explored the issue of under-claiming.  Gorard (2012) does suggest that the distinction between “eligibility and take-up may have been eroded” (p. 1015).

The report, published by the DFE  indicates that in many places eligibility of FSM still does not mean claiming of FSM.  As a result, some schools won’t get the extra funding they are entitled too, the socio-economic barriers that some children face will be obscured by the relative affluence of those around them.  And, the tabloid press won’t launch a moral panic about the level of benefit under-claiming in this country.

Pupils not claiming free school meals is written Samaira Iniesta-Martinez and Helen Evans and published as a Department for Education Research Report.

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Sarah Teather: Pupil Premium to Double

The pupil premium is money targeted at children from poor backgrounds, and is symbolic of the Government’s apparent commitment to social mobility.

The announcement at the Liberal Democrat Conference must have given delegates something to smile about, but is it likely to make a significant difference?

In their election manifesto, the Liberal Democrats promised a pupil premium of £2.5 billion, but, once in coalition had to settle for £625 million.  Over a year later and the pupil premium is set to rise to £1.25 billion in 2012/13 and then to £2.5 billion in 2014/15.  On the face of it, it sounds like they have finally got their way.  Crucially, the Liberal Democrat manifesto stated that they would do the following:

“Increase the funding of the most disadvantaged pupils, around one million children. We will invest £2.5 billion in this ‘Pupil Premium’ to boost education opportunities for every child. This is additional money going into the schools budget, and headteachers will be free to spend it in the best interests of children.” (2010: 34) [1]

Notice that they pledged to increase funding, and that the pupil premium would be additional money.

With some schools facing cuts to their budgets, the pupil premium may not turn out to be additional funding.

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A look back at Education 2010 – Part 2

This year will see the amount of public money spent on education, fall.  However, we are not supposed to worry about the impact of this.  A number of reassurances are used by the current Government in the process of framing public spending.  For example, the phrase “we’re all in this together” is supposed to make us feel that these cuts are fair, that everyone will experience cuts to the same extent, that no one group is being singled out. It is a case of all citizens sharing the burden, bankers and bin men alike.  This reassurance is however inconsistent with other reassurances from the Government over the protection of ‘front line services’.  Firstly, cuts cannot be fair and equally spread if some services are protected while others are not.  Secondly, the definition of ‘front line services’ is not clear.  The term ‘front line services’ may appear common sensical, referring to those essential services that no civilised society, or no individual can live without.  In reality, ‘front line services’ differ between individuals,  so some members of the population may see the services they rely on protected, while others will see them cut.

When it comes to education, a 0.1% increase in schools’ budgets were suggested in the October spending review.  By December, pantomime season had descended; it was a case of ‘oh no it isn’t’.  The 0.1% rise is not a real rise, given inflation. It also means that the pupil premium isn’t actually extra money.  According to the  DfE Some LEAs and schools will see their budgets fall.

Other cuts were announced.  £162 million of funding to the School Sports Partnership was to be cut.  By the 20th December Gove could be heard crying ‘Oh no its not’ as the DfE issued a news release to the effect that funding will now continue until the end of summer term 2011.

On 17th December Booktrust, an independent charity which runs a book gifting scheme giving books to children and families to encourage reading were told that their  £13 million Government funding would cease from 1 April 2011.   No sooner had the charity released the contents of the letter, but Government, in gesture of seasonal goodwill decided to review the decision.  Clearly the ghost of Christmas future has not visited, as it is only a partial ‘u turn’ as the Government has declared it is committed to  bookgifting and will continue to work with Booktrust.

Could it be argued that school sports, books and reading are not ‘front line services’?