Today the Department for Education has published new data on the number of pupils eligible for free school meals in England. The latest figures for January 2021 show that the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals rose to 20.8% from 19.7% in October 2020.
The rise between October 2020 and January 2021 of 1.1 percentage points means that the number of pupils eligible for free school meals has increased by 100,000 pupils, taking the total to over 1.7m pupils nationally.
The rise follows the recent decision from the Department for Education to change the way in which it allocates pupil premium funding for disadvantaged pupils, which is determined by free school meal eligibility at any point in the preceding six years. The Department’s changes meant that the October school census was used to determine the number of pupils on free school meals, rather than the January census. This meant that pupils who were newly eligible for pupil premium funding in the period between these two months, who would have previously received funding, are no longer counted.
Whilst some of these pupils may have already been eligible for the pupil premium, a rise in the number of pupils eligible for free school meals between October 2020 and January 2021 is likely to mean that pupils have missed out on extra funding via the pupil premium, due to October being used as the new cut-off date.
Commenting on today’s release, Jon Andrews, Head of Analysis at the Education Policy Institute (EPI) said:
“Today’s figures are a further indication that the government’s change to how the pupil premium is allocated means that pupils and schools are now missing out on vital 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 Department for Education 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.”