How to ensure that primary schools in England don’t lose government funding when the new free school meals initiative starts.
Further to my comments about free school meals and the financial dangers lurking with the new arrangements for next year, I have received a huge range of replies relating to how one can ensure that parents continue to register for free school meals and thus schools can continue to get the financing as before.
The most popular way to do this is the simple way. One writes to the relevant parents and explains to them briefly that it would give the school extra funding if they completed the registration form.
Now I do know of a couple of schools that have said to me that they have looked at this, but the results were poor. But I think this approach does work, although it does depend very much on the wording of the letter. Strange as it might seem, very slight changes of phrase can greatly affect the response rate.
Also, given how much is at stake I agree with what many schools are doing – which is to offer an incentive. One such offer I have seen offers a free school t-shirt or sweat shirt to each respondent of the form. That’s an offer that costs precious little, compared to the amount of money that comes in. Another school wrote in to say they are looking at offering the parent a one-off ‘voucher’ for £50 to be used against school trips/uniform if they are eligible and apply for FSM. A third school told me that “We give our new Reception children who qualify for free school meals a £20 voucher towards school uniform.“
Here’s another thought. “We are actively encouraging parents to call and enquire as to whether they are entitled to FSM by educating parents about the funding and how it is used.
“We have sent out letters, posted information on websites, invited parents in for 1 to 1 meetings (those who we know should be eligible) and encouraged them to call by being very open with how we use the funding; educating parents of the direct benefit to their child i.e. subsidising costs for educational trips, music lessons, 1:1 tuition, sports activities. We have also discussed Pupil Premium with all new parents and offered the use of the school phone to make calls to check eligibility.
I have found parents have been very responsive and eager once they are aware of the direct benefits to their children of the funding and the impact the loss of this funding will have.”
I am also aware that Somerset LA has put out a standard form for schools to use, and I suspect other LAs might be doing the same. If not, you could ask your LA to do so.
I also believe that talk about giving the school a bonus by completing the form is much more effective than talking about losing money.
Here is one letter I have seen… it was sent out attached to the form that had to be filled in.
From September 2014 xxx School will offer free school meals for all Infants aged pupils as part of the Universal Infant Free School Meal initiative put in place by the Department of Education (DFE).
Research has shown that healthy free school meals improve children’s learning and productivity, whilst saving you money in tough times.
Our school meals meet strict nutritional standards, and the quality and sustainability of our meals is regularly monitored.
REGISTERING COULD RAISE MONEY FOR YOUR CHILD’S SCHOOL
Did you know that schools can receive additional funding for pupils who are eligible for free school meals PRE the UIFSM initiative? This funding is known as Pupil Premium.
It’s important to sign up even though school meals will become free in September, as registering can raise an extra £1300 for your child’s school from the DFE. This money can fund valuable support like extra learning, learning assistants or after school clubs.
Even if you don’t want your child to receive a free meal, we would encourage you to register so that the school receives as much funding as possible!
HOW THE INFORMATION IN THIS FORM WILL BE USED
The information you provide in this form will be used by the school to assess, and if eligible, claim extra grant money from the Government to provide extra learning or to assess charges for school trips or after school clubs.
It is really important that you complete all the information asked for in this form to help make sure xxx Infants is as well funded as possible!
Here’s one from another school…
However we did include the following statement to try and ensure that parents do still apply for free school meals where necessary:
Please note that if you currently receive one of the following benefits, you will still need to complete the attached free school meal application form to ensure that you will remain eligible should the Government scheme be scrapped.
- Income support
- Pension Credit (Guaranteed Credit)
- Jobseekers Allowance (Income Based)
- Employment and Support Allowance (Income related)
- Child Tax Credit (where joint Annual Taxable Income – as assessed by HMRC – is £16190.00 or less)
Should the Government scheme end and you have failed to complete this form, you will have to start paying for school meals until an application is approved, this may take some time if lots of families apply at once.
My own thought on all this is to try and keep the letters really simple. You don’t want to mislead, but the simpler it is the more likely you will be to get replies.
Thank you to everyone who replied to me. I had so many replies that this time I was not able to reply to each individually. I’m really sorry about that – but it was indeed very helpful. The message time and again was, get in touch with the parents, and offer them a small simple incentive.
Director, School of Educational Management and Administration