Durham Labour urges Education Minister to rethink changes to free school meal funding.

County Durham Labour is calling for Gavin Williamson to halt controversial funding changes that could see County Durham schools lose out on £1m in funding.

In County Durham, financial projections show an increase in FSM eligible pupils from 18,382 at the October count to 19,208 in January. A change applied by the Department of Education means a reduction in the allocation of Pupil Premium funding to County Durham schools by £973,000 for the next financial year with 764 fewer pupils included.

Cllr Olwyn Gunn has written to the Secretary for Education about changes to the Pupil Premium funding – allocated to schools to help improve the progress of disadvantaged pupils – claiming new alterations in data collection will result in schools missing out in essential support.

Essential to the calculation of this funding, is the number of pupils receiving free school meals (FSM). Currently, schools have from the beginning of the academic year until January to report the number of children eligible for FSM. However, that time frame is being reduced, so schools must evaluate provision by October, allowing barely a month to complete the complex assessment.

Cllr Gunn, Durham County Council Cabinet Member Children & Young People’s Services, said: “Once again, the Education Secretary is making significant changes to tried and tested processes, without consultation, that will hit schools at a time when every penny counts.

“FSM data is directly linked to the amount of money the Department for Education provides to schools via Pupil Premium funding. It’s always a challenge for schools to register FSM-eligible pupils for an October census, but pupils are identified by January. Shortening that timeframe makes no sense, particularly as schools are dealing with so many other issues.

“Basing Pupil Premium allocations on schools’ October FSM data rather than January means a significant number of children eligible for FSM support are excluded.

“The impact of the pandemic has resulted in a huge increase in children eligible for FSM. It is shameful the way this Government continues to treat schools. You’d think the lesson would have been learned after the GCSE and A-Level debacle, the shambolic back to school false start in January and the ongoing mess surrounding COVID support, but apparently not. These changes will have a disproportionate impact on our most disadvantaged pupils and undermine our ambitions around education recovery and levelling up,” added Cllr Gunn.

“Changes to the Premium Pupil funding must be postponed to ensure full understanding of the consequences it will have for our most disadvantaged pupils.”

Cllr Gunn has written to the Minister raising her concerns about the impact on County Durham schools.