8-PAGE PULL-OUT SUPPLEMENT
SCHOOLS, COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES
Schools that feed a need
The failure of many poor families to claim free school meals is distorting the picture about the level of deprivation among pupils at Catholic schools. Jeremy Sutcliffe reports on efforts to redress the balance and get government funds to the children who most need it
Bishop Challoner Catholic Collegiate School is a successful and popular comprehensive at the heart of London’s East End. Recently its 1,800 students moved into a state-of-the-art £45 million building marking the culmination of a 10-year vision to create a “learning village” in which separate boys’ and girls’ schools and a combined sixth-form centre all share the same campus.
The impressive new buildings are a fitting landmark to a decade of investment in public services in which many ageing, often dilapidated, school buildings were replaced or refurbished. The banking crisis and global recession have now put a stop to all that, and for the country’s state-funded schools the days of plenty have given way to severe budget cuts.
It is against this background that the Coalition Government is introducing the pupil premium, a new fund given to schools to help them tackle underachievement in children from low-income families. Introduced in April 2011 at the relatively modest level of £488 for each child eligible for free school meals – the Government’s preferred deprivation measure – it rose to £600 last month. By 2015 it is set to double to £1,200 per eligible pupil, according to the latest forecast.
These sums represent a substantial investment for schools and are intended to tackle the growing achievement gap between affluent middle-class children and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. For a 250-pupil primary school serving a deprived neighbourhood with half the children on free dinners, the pupil premium is set to rise to £150,000 by 2015. A 1,000-pupil secondary school with a similar intake can expect to receive £600,000.
Schools are using the money to provide a variety of programmes to help children struggling to keep up academically with their peers. They include mentoring programmes, after-school and weekend catch-up and enrichment sessions, one-to-one tuition and a variety of teaching strategies designed to engage pupils in their learning and provide effective feedback.
The pupil premium has generally been welcomed by teachers and heads as an effective means of targeting money to tackle under-achievement where it is needed most. It also represents an increasingly rare point of consensus between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government who both regard it as a flagship policy in their agenda to promote fairness.
But despite widespread support for the policy, the way the funding is distributed is causing acute concern among Catholic educationists, who believe that collectively Catholic schools may be losing out on tens of millions of pounds. The problem appears to be that many Catholic families, particularly those recently coming to live in the United Kingdom, are not registering their children’s eligibility to claim free school meals.
The Catholic Education Service for England and Wales (CES) is now investigating why there is a lower take-up of free school meals in maintained Catholic schools, even though the Government’s own data indicates that there are much higher levels of deprivation among children attending Catholic schools. According to figures provided by the CES, 15.9 per cent of Catholic pupils in primary schools claimed free school meals in 2011, compared with 18.8 per cent of pupils in non-Catholic primary schools. The picture was similar in secondary schools, with 13.9 per cent of Catholic pupils claiming free dinners compared with 15.6 per cent in other schools.
But other figures obtained by the CES paint a very different picture. According to the Department for Education’s Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI), 62 per cent of pupils at Catholic
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INSIDE | Clare Short’s teachers | Jesuit girl power | Durham’s chaplaincy
19 May 2012 | TABLET Education | s1