Free school meals: the long term impact

The free school meals impact lasts much longer than government recognises, says Dr Mike Treadaway, Director of Innovation and Research at the Fischer Family Trust.

“While some pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds perform well, it is widely known that most suffer a lower academic outcome than their peers,” he explains. “Currently, additional support known as pupil premium is only provided for pupils who have received free school meals in the last six years.

“Research that we’ve undertaken at FFT suggests that a single year of free school meals, even just in reception class, can affect pupils’ academic performance for the rest of their education.

“It has also uncovered an ‘Invisible Group’ made up of pupils who have received free school meals longer than six years ago. We call this group ‘invisible’ because they are not included in pupil premium funding and are unlikely to be known to schools.

“This is by no means a small group. Calculations suggest that four per cent of all pupils in the country fall into this category. The ‘Invisible Group’ suffers similar levels of underachievement to those who have received free school meals throughout their education.

“Children in the ‘Invisible Group’ average just above a D grade at GCSE. A whole grade lower than pupils who have never received free school meals, who average just above a C grade.

“We’d like to see the Department for Education broaden the definition of pupil premium qualification to include all students who have ever received free school meals. This would mean a further £29m could be added to pupil premium funding for additional academic support for those pupils previously overlooked.

“One school working towards stamping out the achievement gap is the Co-operative Academy of Manchester. In just four years, the school has narrowed the gap in GCSE attainment between students on pupil premium and others by half, which is five times better than the national average.

“By adding extra funding to pupil premium and counting those previously overlooked in the ‘Invisible Group’ a positive step could be made towards helping other schools follow in the Co-operative Academy of Manchester’s footsteps in helping disadvantaged students to achieve their full potential.”