In these times of financial austerity school budgets are being squeezed despite the Coalition’s claim the education budget is frozen and being ring fenced. School Governors on finance committees are coming under increasing pressure to balance the books and have a financially sustainable model for their school.
The one area governors can have an impact is to implement a strategy for promoting the Pupil Premium and free school meals awareness amongst their parents. The Pupil Premium provides additional funding and is targeted at pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to ensure they benefit from the same opportunities as pupils from less deprived families. For 2011-2012, the pupil premium grant was worth £488 per pupil and went to children who were receiving Free School Meals. Children in care who had been looked after by local authorities for more than six months also qualified for the Pupil Premium.
The Department for Education announced that the April 2012/2013 Pupil Premium for disadvantaged pupils, including looked after children, will increase by £112 per pupil to £600.
It is estimated that over half a million additional children will also qualify for the premium as the scheme now covers any child that has been registered for Free School Meals (FSM) in the past six years, as well as those first known to be eligible at January 2012. The DfE refers to this type of eligible pupil as ‘Ever 6 FSM’.
For 2012-2013, the premium will be worth £1.25 billion in total. Extra funding through the Pupil Premium is set to continue, with total funding due to rise to top £2.5 billion a year by 2014-15. The Department for Education has been reminding schools and parents to make sure those children eligible for Free School Meals are registered before the Pupil Census Day in January so that schools receive the funding.
From April 2012, there will also be an increase of £50, from £200 to £250, for the pupil premium available to each pupil recorded (on the January 2012 School Census) as a Service child aged 4 and over in Year Groups R to 11 in mainstream schools. The extra funding is planned to help schools focus on providing additional pastoral support to service children.
The Department for Education published the Pupil Premium 2012-2013 Conditions of Grant in December 2011. It states that the PPG (Pupil Premium Grant) may be spent for the educational benefit of pupils registered at the school, or for the benefit of pupils registered at other maintained schools and on community facilities.
The PPG does not have to be completely spent by schools in the financial year beginning April 2012 - some or all of it may be carried forward to future financial years. DfE guidance says it is for individual schools to decide whether to transfer the grant into a separate account; however, the money will not be subject to separate auditing procedures. Although Local Authorities are responsible for passing on the pupil premium to state schools and for managing its distribution in respect of looked after children, there is no requirement to monitor how the grant is spent.
The DfE confirm that there is no guidance to schools regarding keeping records of how the pupil premium is spent, only that at present there is no requirement for schools to maintain formal records. However, although schools will be free to spend the pupil premium as they see fit, they will be held accountable for how they have used the additional funding to support pupils from low-income families. The focus should be on the reporting of outcomes for those eligible for the grant and new measures will be included in the performance tables that will capture the achievement of those deprived pupils covered by the pupil premium.
From September 2012, the DfE will also require schools to publish online information about how they have used the premium. The DfE claim this will ensure that parents and others are made fully aware of the progress and attainment of pupils covered by the premium.
If a parent did enquire about how a school was going to use the pupil premium to support their children, the first enquiry should be to the governing body through their finance committee.
Many schools now regularly communicate with all parents in an effort to create awareness, promote the pupil premium and encourage those who may be eligible to confidentially apply.
However, schools still report a low take up, possibly because parents of eligible pupils regard the Free Schools Meals tag a stigma that they are too embarrassed or proud to consider claiming it. In small schools parents can be worried that the school staff will know their business - what benefits they get, what their income is etc and understandably wish to keep that information private.
and the small school where I am Chair of Governors, the Local Authority offers
a FSM eligibility checking service for a small fee of £250 per year. This works
for us by making the process anonymous as the parent just has to provide their
National Insurance number and the local authority does the rest. This means that
school admin staff do not need to see any sensitive documents, in turn
minimising parental embarrassment and the school is also protected from the risk
of getting the eligibility checks wrong.