Schools in Southwark stand to lose £1.2 million in pupil premium funding after ministers changed how grants for disadvantaged children are calculated.
In February the Department of Education announced pupil premium grants for this financial year (2021-22) would only be given for pupils who were receiving free school meals from October 2020, rather than the usual January cut-off date.
Pupil premium funding is based on who is receiving free school meals, with primaries receiving £1,345 per pupil, and secondaries £955.
According to government data obtained by MP Neil Coyle, this means that more than a million is expected to be lost to schools in our borough alone – with one school expected to lose out on £60,000. The data does not, however, name which schools are most affected.
In March Coyle wrote to education minister Nick Gibb asking for clarity on the number of children no longer included by changing the dates. He later said he was ‘appalled’ by the minister’s ‘attempt to side-step’ the question.
Gibb’s reply said that moving the date back to October would provide ‘greater certainty around future funding levels’, and that data was being collected on how many schools and children this would affect but is not yet available.
The Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP also highlighted his concerns that Southwark schools would be particularly hard-hit at a meeting organised with the minister and local headteachers.
After the event, attended by leaders from a dozen schools across Southwark, Coyle told the News: “Southwark schools deserve our thanks and praise for doing so much to educate remotely and in person for key workers’ children throughout the pandemic.
“Access to the laptops promised by the government has been patchy at best, delayed and insufficient more routinely.
“But funding concerns were also raised due to a sneaky cut ministers are trying to impose which reduces help under the pupil premium system.”
“I’ll be following up these issues with heads and the minister and hope the government U-turns on a cut after such massive efforts by schools to keep equipping children to have the brightest future.”
The National Association of Headteachers says two thirds of schools it had surveyed across the country said the cut leaves them worse off even when taking into account COVID-19 recovery funding.
General secretary Paul Whiteman said: “These figures suggest that a large number of schools in England have lost more funding due to this date change than they are being given in the government’s so-called education recovery package.
“The government is giving with one hand while knowingly taking away with the other.
“A three month gap may not seem like it would make a big difference but, given the volatile financial situation for many families due to COVID-19, it is an exceptionally bad time to implement this change.”
He added: “The government must put this right. We aren’t asking for additional money here.
“Only for what schools would have received if this census date change hadn’t been implemented. If they don’t they will be abandoning those children most in need at the most critical time.”
As the News has reported, 44,000 in Southwark are now unemployed or furloughed. Economists have predicted unemployment could rise to ten per cent by December 2021; despite a post-pandemic bounce-back.
The number of people claiming Universal Credit, often an indicator of families eligible for free school meals has also sharply risen.
In April 2020 Southwark Council received 800 applications from social housing tenants in just a three-week period.