Local Authority: Liverpool
- To reduce the percentage of qualifying pupils missing out on free school meals and pupil premium funding.
- Online Free School Meals
- Identifying an additional child entitled to free school meals each academic year covers the running costs of the school’s initiative and, over six years, could trigger 10s of £1000s in extra pupil premium funding to support vulnerable children.
Our Lady Immaculate looks for a solution that helps identify eligible children for Free School Meal and Pupil Premium funding
As the Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) programme provides all children up to Year 2 with a free meal every day, many parents would not apply for any school meal provision until Year 3. Meaning many parents were missing out on other sources of support they were entitled to, linked to household income, such as Pupil Premium.
Marion, the school business manager, explains it further: “Many parents don’t necessarily understand how a free school meal award is a gateway benefit and is used as a measure of other funding, so don’t always see the need to register. We needed to redress the balance and focus on the types of funding that should be available to us. Eligibility for free school meals is a common indicator for pupil premium entitlement, so we wanted to find a solution that could monitor ongoing pupil eligibility and make it easier for parents to engage in the process.”
To address this the school decided to use Online Free School Meals (OFSM) to make it easier to identify pupils who would be eligible for free school meals and drive-up applications.
Simplification of the application process with OFSM
The school first refined its application process to include a form which requested any new parents to include their National Insurance and MAS card numbers as part of the process, so pupils’ eligibility can be automatically monitored within OFSM.
OFSM then uses live data from the Department of Work and Pensions, the Home Office and HMRC to detect in real-time if a pupil has become eligible for free school meals and pupil premium. The system is continually monitoring eligibility for every child whilst they remain at the school. If a pupil becomes eligible, an email alert is triggered notifying both the parents and the school. This removes the need for reapplications and saves staff time and effort.
Maximising school income opportunities and triggering a spark for additional support
Since using the OFSM tool, the school has increased the take up of free school meals and the amount of pupil premium funding it receives. This has allowed greater access to early years and mainstream pupil premium, as well as a bigger slice of the local authority budget allocation, which is calculated by combining free school meal numbers and deprivation indices.
“Discovering one eligible pupil we previously weren’t aware of means OFSM pays for itself,” says Marion. “Multiply that by the number of pupils who might be entitled prior to Year 3 and it’s easy to see the value the tool brings to the table.”
Marion also believes OFSM has become an invaluable way of helping the school to support parents in other ways too. “Families can sometimes be reluctant to volunteer that they need support. If we are already talking to them having received an automated alert about free school meals, it’s easier to ask them if everything else is OK.”