Parents begged to claim benefit

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A HEADTEACHER has been forced to write to parents begging them to claim free school meals because the school could otherwise face a funding crisis.

Ramsey Tetlow, headteacher at Highfields School in Matlock, has urged parents to sign up to the scheme as funding which the school relies on is set to be axed in April and replaced with a new ‘pupil premium’.

As part of the reforms introduced by the government money will now be allocated to schools based on how many students are entitled to free school meals.

The funding is needed to pay for learning resources and teachers’ salaries.

One parent who received the letter was not impressed with the move and described it as desperate.

The father, who did not want to be named said: “While I can see that the school needs to do everything it can to protect its budgets, to encourage applications for free school meals seems both desperate and disingenuous when the real motive is nothing to do with what is served in the canteen.”

But in his letter Dr Tetlow defended his decision to appeal to parents to sign up for free meal “as soon as possible,” claiming the proposed changes could have a potentially serious effect on Highfields’s overall budget and ultimately disadvantage every child in the school.

He added: “Funding will be allocated to schools on the basis of how many students are entitled to a free school meal.

“The funding will become an important element of the school’s overall budget to be used for such essentials as learning resources and teachers’ salaries.

“Consequently, it is vital that we do all we can to maximise our funding by ensuring that all parents who are eligible for free school meals are actually claiming them.”

You are eligible for free meals if you receive Income Support; Income Based Jobseekers Allowance; Child Tax Credit, but not receiving Working Tax Credit, and your annual income does not exceed £16,190.

Dr Tetlow told the Mercury this week that he did not want to scaremonger but the school could face losing up to 80 per cent of its funding.

The pupil premium is a new government grant to support disadvantaged children. Each child in receipt of free school meals will increase a school’s budget by £430.

Dt Tetlow said: “I want to point out to parents that this is an easy gain the school can make if parents declare their eligibility for school meals.”

He said slashing funding could potentially mean losing teachers and added: “We will fight tooth and claw to maintain front line services and keep teachers in front of classes but it does mean some of the other things will have to be pulled back.”