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There’s no such thing as a free lunch! Or is there? Schools are not benefiting from as much funding as they could because of the confusion surrounding free school meals. Parents and carers forget to update their eligibility details for free school meals, many assuming that because free lunches are available in key stage 1 & 2 there is no need to tell the school of their eligibility.
FSM and UIFSM demystified
What is the difference between FSM and UIFSM? This is where the confusion starts.
FSM relates to whether the parent is on the benefits below, and therefore qualifies for Free School Meals (regardless of whether they take this up at school or not). The funding comes through as ‘Pupil premium FSM’.
UIFSM is Universal Infant Free School Meals. It refers to government funding for children in Reception, Year 1 or Year 2 who are not on FSM to have free lunches. When working out your UIFSM funding you exclude the pupils that attract the FSM funding already. You cannot receive funding from both sources for the same child – they are mutually exclusive. Hence the need to max out your FSM funding.
Funding for Pupil Premium (free school meals, FSM) children is £1320 each which is a lot greater than the funding for UIFSM.
FSM Eligibility Criteria
What is the eligibility criteria for free school meals entitlement? The Gov.uk website states the below:
Your child might be able to get free school meals if you get any of the following:
Children who get paid these benefits directly, instead of through a parent or guardian, can also get free school meals.
Your child might also get free school meals if you get any of these benefits and your child is both:
So now we know the difference, we’ve come up with 7 ways to maximise your school’s pupil premium FSM funding:
1. Offer incentives
Offer incentives like a free book bag and jumper when they notify you that they are entitled to pupil premium – especially Nursery/reception age and transferring pupils. The cost of this is small compared to £1320 of funding you get per child.
2. Use the LGFL eligibility checker
Parents can log into the Eligibility Checker to check whether their child qualifies for free school meals. They will then still have to let the school know if they are eligible. Click here for some guidance on the use of the LGFL site.
3. Remind parents
It is essential to explain that it is not just about free food, but about funding for their child to achieve more at school. This can be done by a letter or email to all parents. Be sure to include the link to your local authority’s website so they can apply for free school meals, and the link for the LGFL eligibility checker. You could also list the eligibility criteria (listed above) to save parents having to look them up themselves.
4. Check with Food In Schools regularly
Croydon schools can avoid clawbacks in pupil premium FSM funding by checking with Food In Schools at least once a term. They hold the council’s FSM data. Their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and their phone number is 020 8407 1338. You can match their info to the records on FSM eligibility that you hold at your school.
5. Make sure free school meals eligibility is raised and explained in the first contact with new parents.
If they realise that it means more funding for their child at the school then they will be more likely to declare their eligibility. Make sure the staff who make first contact, e.g. at a home visit, can explain the importance of FSM funding correctly.
6. Use the DfE list to keep your SIMS info up to date
Every November you should update SIMS with the list of children that are funded in the current financial year. This ensures you have the correct data for current and ever6 children. This list can be downloaded from Secure Access (the DfE portal) at the end of October or in November. Click on the K2S section and download the file in the pupil premium section on the left. This list can then be imported into SIMS. For help with this you can contact your SIMS helpdesk.
7. Watch out! SIMS resets every September
Stay ahead of SIMS by exporting your pupil premium data in July. SIMS resets the pupil premium indicator in the September update so you will have to re-enter this. If you have a report from July then you can do this easily and not lose any data. If you do this, and number 6, you stand the best chance of optimising your pupil premium data.
Authors: Patrick Leavy (Finance service), Louise Watts (Information Systems service)