ASCL comment on NFER report warning of consequences of changes to free school meal eligibility

18/01/2022
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, comments on the report from the NFER warning that recent and planned changes to free school meals eligibility will make tracking the progress of disadvantaged students ‘almost impossible’.
 
Commenting on the report from the NFER warning that recent and planned changes to free school meals eligibility will make tracking the progress of disadvantaged students ‘almost impossible’, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:
 
“While this report is seemingly about arcane data processes, there is a really important issue here. We have to be able to track the progress of disadvantaged youngsters so that we are able to put in place the right support.
 
“Through the law of unintended consequences, the changes in free school meal eligibility will skew the figures so that we won’t be able to tell if the attainment gap between these pupils and other children is improving or not. Added to this is the stark impact of the pandemic in increasing the number of families in poverty.
 
“Being able to track the progress of disadvantaged youngsters is a key element in boosting social justice, and the government’s oft-repeated phrase ‘levelling up’. Therefore, there really does need to be a fresh look at how we keep track of disadvantage in the education system, backed with sufficient support through the pupil premium.
 
“The government must recognise the flaws that the NFER has identified and undertake an urgent review of free school meals eligibility and the pupil premium grant to ensure disadvantage among children and young people is correctly identified and there is sufficient funding to meet the needs of this rapidly-expanding group.”