'Universal free school meals could lead to underprivileged Stockton children missing out,' says councillor

First published in News Darlington and Stockton Times: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter (Stockton/Hartlepool)

SCHOOLS across the borough of Stockton have contacted parents in an attempt to ensure underprivileged children don't miss out on cash due to new free school meal rules.

Primary schools receive £1,300 direct from the Government for every child registered as being on free school meals as part of the Pupil Premium scheme.

However, this year every child in Years One and Two will receive a free school meal, no matter how wealthy the parents.

That led Stockton borough Ukip councillor Mark Chatburn to raise concerns that parents whose children are eligible for the meals won't register, leaving the schools with less money.

Cllr Chatburn, a former Conservative, said: "It is extremely alarming and perverse that the well intentioned, but poorly thought through policy on free schools meal could potentially see our region's most deprived schools lose out on tens of thousands of pounds of extra, much-needed funding each and every year.

"Sadly, it is typical of this Conservative-led government to enact a policy the devil of which is very much in the detail, and which hits the most deprived areas of the country disproportionately hard.

"I would implore every family, and particularly those with a child starting Year 1 or 2 this week, to contact their local council if they believe they meet the criteria for free school meals."

Stockton Borough Council said it had been in touch with primary school headteachers from across the borough.

Leaflets have been produced to be sent to all parents of early years children. The council's Families Information Service will also be advising schools of free school meal-eligible two-year-olds that are moving into their school nursery, so schools will be able to record this information.

Stockton Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, Cllr Ann McCoy, said: “We know how vital it is that our schools continue to claim all of the pupil premium money they are eligible to receive so they can continue to provide the best possible educational opportunities for our children. That is why we have met with a number of primary school headteachers to establish a joint way forward.

“Leaflets have been distributed to encourage parents of children who would be eligible for Free School Meals under the old system to continue to ‘sign-up’ so that the school receives the pupil premium money."

Primary and secondary schools will receive a combined total of £9.1m in 2014/15 for the free school meals element of the Pupil Premium. Every primary school gets £1,300 for every free school meal child and secondary schools receive £935 per pupil.

Parents can find out more at stockton.gov.uk/childrenandyoungpeople/schools/schoolmeals/

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