The government has come under fire for a "scandalous" funding change that teachers and heads say will make it harder to support the most disadvantaged pupils with their learning.
Headteachers say the change means that schools will have to wait at least an extra year for pupil premium funding for children who became eligible for free school meals between November 2020 and January 2021.
This funding delay comes as many heads say the number of children falling into poverty is growing month-by-month as the pandemic hits jobs and leaves families struggling.
One Year 5-6 teacher described the move as "disgusting" at a time when school budgets are under so much pressure, and said she felt "sickened and angry".
This truly is disgusting as so many school budgets are under pressure already. Am sickened and angry , but sadly not surprised, as the department meant to protect education seems to hate it at present and all school staff within. Pressures rising daily on all.
— Oonagh Kelleher MCCT 🇮🇪♥️🙏 (@OonaghKelleher) January 23, 2021
Coronavirus: Anger at ‘broken’ meals voucher scheme
The change – announced quietly before Christmas – means that the government will now calculate the number of children attracting pupil premium funding from April based on a census from last October.
Coronavirus: Disadvantaged children to miss out on pupil premium cash
Schools had been expecting that there would be another census this month, to take account of any children who became eligible for free school meals between October and January.
But now any children who become newly eligible in this period will not attract pupil premium money in school budgets allocated from April this year.
Heads have criticised the move as "scandalous" and say this will deprive them of thousands of pounds that should be spent on helping disadvantaged pupils, for example through behavioural support and teacher training.
This is absolutely scandalous...... we've had a many families successfully apply for FSM.....and now the school will not receive pupil premium for those children.— HalilMrT 👂🏽 (@HalilMrT1) January 23, 2021
Pupil premium cash is worth £1,345 per eligible primary pupil, and £955 in secondary, but rises to £2,345 for looked-after children.
Julia Harnden, funding specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The big problem with this change is that a number of children will have become eligible for pupil premium since October because of the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic on many families.
“The result is that schools will have more children on their roll who need pupil premium support, but without the funding to provide that support for more than a year.
“The Department for Education may see this as an administrative change to bring pupil premium funding into line with most other school funding. However, the timing of this, in the middle of a pandemic, is extremely unfortunate, to say the least, and has resulted in yet another pressure on school budgets.”
A DfE spokesperson pointed to a statement made by schools minister Nick Gibb in Parliament stating that the change would “ensure that children who have become eligible for free school meals as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak will attract pupil premium funding from April 2021".
They did not address the concern that fewer pupils would attract the funding this April than would have been the case before the change.