‘Missing’ Pupil Premium funds could have a £1.75million impact on Hertfordshire schools

'Pupil Premium’ funding is designed to help schools improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils

National changes in the way funds are allocated to support the most disadvantaged pupils could have a £1.75m impact on Hertfordshire schools, it has been suggested.

And now the county council’s executive member for education, libraries and learning Cllr Terry Douris has committed to raise the issue with the Secretary of State.

The issue focusses on the allocation of ‘Pupil Premium’ funding, which is designed to help schools improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.

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That funding is allocated based on the number of children who have claimed free school meals within the past six years – or who have left the care of the local authority.

But, in a change to previous years, rather than being based on the numbers recorded in January – the figures are being calculated on eligible pupils from the previous October.

In Hertfordshire that means that 1,518 pupils who were claiming free school meals in January (but not in October) won’t count – even though they would have done in previous years.

And that will mean less Pupil Premium funding for schools in Hertfordshire than there would have been otherwise.

At the annual meeting of the county council on Tuesday (May 25), the issue was raised by Liberal Democrat Cllr Mark Watkin, who put the loss at an estimated £1.75m.

Cllr Watkin suggested Hertfordshire had one of the widest attainment gaps in the country – suggesting there was little evidence of it narrowing.

He asked executive member Cllr Douris whether he agreed that the Pupil Premium was “a vital part of government’s levelling-up agenda” – and whether the ‘cut’ was “unacceptable”.

Cllr Douris acknowledged that nationally the amount the government had provided in Pupil Premium funding would increase this year by £0.1bn – to £2.5billion.

But he said that the change in the census data used – from January to the previous October – meant 1,518 pupils claiming free school meals in the county in January would no longer be eligible.

And he committed to raise the issue with the government.

“I do intend to write to the Secretary of State to seek guidance on how he considers the government might best support us in achieving an appropriate solution to this particular issue,” he said.

And he said that he agreed that the narrowing the gap is of “absolute importance in providing the best possible education for all our children and particularly those in benefit of Pupil Premium”.

The issue was also raised at the meeting by newly-elected Labour Cllr Tina Bhartwas.

Speaking for the first time as a county councillor, she said: “As had been mentioned, between October 2020 and January 2021, 1,518 pupils began claiming free school meals – but central government is excluding them from the Pupil Premium grant.

“That’s a short-change of £1.9m to this county. I wanted to know specifically what this administration in is going to do about this?”

And Cllr Douris then went further – suggesting the county council may be seeking reimbursement from the government.

He said: “I propose writing to the Secretary of State seeking clarification and guidance on how the government may actually seek to reimburse us for this missing £1.9m.

“We will write and it will be up to the government to respond to us in the way they feel most appropriate.”

The annual meeting of the county council was the first meeting of the council since the May 6 local elections.

And – held in the Gordon Craig Theatre, in Stevenage – it was the first ‘in-person’ meeting of the full council since the Coronavirus regulations that had allowed councils to meet virtually had lapsed.