Local authorities across London have collectively written to the education secretary demanding a reversal of a change that will see schools missing out on millions of pounds for their poorest pupils.
The change to the way pupil premium money is allocated had been described as "scandalous" and "sickening" by teachers and heads when they became aware of it earlier this year.
The change – announced quietly before Christmas – means that the government will calculate the number of children attracting pupil premium funding from April based on a census from last October, and not in January, as schools had been expecting.
This means children who became eligible for free school meals between October and January will not attract pupil premium money in school budgets allocated from April this year.
Now it has emerged that the change will leave a £3.5 million hole across the education budgets of five London boroughs that surveyed their schools: Ealing, Barking and Dagenham, Hounslow, Lewisham and Merton.
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A much wider group of 15 councils has written to Gavin Williamson "to protest about the census date for pupil premium funding which has been changed from January 2021 back to October 2020, affecting the funding available to help our most disadvantaged pupils".
The letter states: "This change in the census was announced by the DfE [Department for Education] at short notice and without consultation. As a result, our schools will lose significant funding which would have helped them support our poorest pupils with their learning."
Child poverty and disadvantage in the 15 boroughs has been growing, leading to an increase in registrations for free school meal since the start of the pandemic, the letter states.
It says: "It is ironic that the government has recently announced a £705 million funding package so that pupils can catch up on lost learning during the pandemic.
"In our boroughs, this funding will be more than offset by the massive loss of pupil premium funding.
The letter concludes: "We ask you to reconsider this ill-thought through, and discriminatory policy change, an attack on the poorest children in our schools, and revert to the census date of January 2021 for pupil premium funding."
The signatories to the letter are:
Cllr Evelyn Carpenter, Cabinet Member for Educational Attainment and School Improvement, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham
Cllr Mili Patel, Cabinet Member for Children’s Safeguarding, Early Help and Social Care, London Borough of Brent
Cllr Thomas Stephens, Cabinet Member for Education, Business, Employment and Skills, London Borough of Brent
Cllr Yvonne Johnson, Cabinet Member for Schools and Children’s Services, London Borough of Ealing
Cllr Rick Jewell, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Education and Protection, London Borough of Enfield
Cllr Matthew Morrow, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Royal Borough of Greenwich
Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Education, Young People and Children’s Social Care, London Borough of Hackney
Cllr Kaushika Amin, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Children Education and Families, London Borough of Haringey
Cllr Larry Culhane, Cabinet Member for Children & Education, London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham
Councillor Tom Bruce, Cabinet Member for Education, Youth and Children’s Services, London Borough of Hounslow
Cllr Edward Davie, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, London Borough of Lambeth
Cllr Chris Barnham, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and School Performance, London Borough of Lewisham
Cllr Eleanor Stringer, Joint Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Children and Education, London Borough of Merton
Cllr Sarah Ruiz, Cabinet Member for Education and Children Social Care, London Borough of Newham
Cllr Elaine Norman, Cabinet Member for Education and Children Social Care, London Borough of Redbridge
Cllr Grace Williams, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, London Borough of Waltham Forest
The DfE has been contacted for comment.