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Free meals for infants may cost schools millions in pupil premium cash

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Primary schools could miss out on tens of millions of pounds in pupil premium funding as a result of free school meals being introduced for all infants, TES can reveal.

Research by the NAHT headteachers' union has found that three-quarters of school leaders believe their school is losing out because of a drop in the number of pupils registered as eligible for the additional cash.

The pupil premium – worth £1,300 per student – is dependent on parents registering their children for free school meals (FSM). But since last September, all four- to seven-year-olds have been entitled to free lunches regardless of their family income, removing a major reason for parents to sign their children up for FSM.

Respondents to the survey estimated that an average 12 per cent of eligible pupils were not registered for FSM, meaning that schools were each missing out on thousands of pounds of government funding.

“The pupil premium and the universal meals are two really good policies that help children, but one is having a negative impact on the other,” said Nicky Gillhespy, school business manager at Cheam Fields Primary School in Surrey.

The three main political parties’ spokespeople for education – the Conservatives’ Nicky Morgan, Labour’s Tristram Hunt and the Lib Dems’ David Laws – are all due to address the NAHT’s annual conference in Liverpool, which starts today. A motion at the conference will call for a national data-sharing system to be set up so that schools are automatically informed of pupils’ entitlement to FSM, rather than relying on parents to tell them.

Meanwhile, a separate NAHT survey published today reveals that schools are spending £43.5 million per year on basic support such as food, clothes and showering facilities for children living in poverty.

“The education system is starting to operate a miniature welfare state that is being delivered ad hoc to fill the gaps that are emerging,” Russell Hobby, the union's general secretary, said.

For the full story, get the 1 May edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

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