It’s ok, it’s other people’s money

With so many frustrating issues going on in this declining country, it is only to be expected that people often miss what’s going on right under their own nose.  This morning saw one of those ‘close to home’ issues thrust into consciousness at Mind Towers, with the arrival of an email from Mind Junior’s school that read:

Dear Mr Mind

Did you know that just by registering your child for Free School Meals the school gets extra money?

For every child registered, Xxxxxx Xxxxxx School will get £600.

Registering is quick, easy and confidential. Full details are given in the attached document. Please contact me if you have any queries.

If you qualify, your son or daughter will receive a free, healthy meal at lunchtime, you could receive other financial help, and the school gets an extra £600. If your child does not want to have a school meal, the school will still get the additional funding.

Please read the attached document and make an application if you think you qualify – the additional funding will make a real difference to the provision of education for your son or daughter.

Yours sincerely

And we wonder where our tax pounds go..?  A few moments of research revealed to my blind eyes that variations of this email have been sent to parents by schools up and down the country in recent weeks and that the scheme facilitating this is the Department of Education‘s ‘Pupil Premium’.

Its purpose is set out on the department’s website and explains:

The Government believes that the Pupil Premium, which is additional to main school funding, is the best way to address the current underlying inequalities between children eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) and their wealthier peers by ensuring that funding to tackle disadvantage reaches the pupils who need it most.

But the department also makes clear that:

Schools are free to spend the Pupil Premium as they see fit. However they will be held accountable for how they have used the additional funding to support pupils from low-income families. New measures will be included in the performance tables that will capture the achievement of those deprived pupils covered by the Pupil Premium. From September 2012, we will also require schools to publish online information about how they have used the Premium. This will ensure that parents and others are made fully aware of the attainment of pupils covered by the Premium.

However as experience has shown us when it comes to public spending, as always, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – if you will pardon the pun. Organisations often find ways around the rules in order to use the resources made available to them in a manner they were not provided for.  The style of the emails and letters sent out by schools show that effort is already underway.

If a family has financial difficulty and cannot afford to provide a meal for their child during the school day, then I feel it is right that the taxpayer funded safety net should kick in to provide for a meal.  It should always be a provision based on need.

But what we are seeing is that even if a family’s means – augmented by some form of credit or benefit that makes their children eligible for free school meals – enable them to provide a meal for their child, schools are encouraging them to register for free meals just so the school can claim more taxpayers’ money. Encouraging parents and carers to register for something they may not need – and implore them to do so even if they don’t need or want to take up the free meals – so it benefits the school, feels like fraud.

If a family is getting by without making use of free school meals, then do they really have the ‘need’ that free school meals are being used as a measure to gauge? Once again it seems the government have failed to think things through and a proportion of the £1.25bn of our money set aside for the poorest in our society will be hoovered up by schools for people who in reality do not fall into that bracket.  But as always no one seems to care because it’s other people’s money and the government can always pick our pockets for more of it in the future.

8 Responses to “It’s ok, it’s other people’s money”

  1. 1 pjt 11/01/2012 at 10:39 am

    You really think differently about school meals in the UK. Where I live, Finland, schools have provided free meals since the 1940’s, and nobody questions that it’s a good idea or thinks that it somehow is a threat to taxpayer morale.

    BTW, it is remarkable how good meals can be produced at ridiculously low prices, when the economies of scale step in. Finland is otherwise a very expensive country (compared to UK), particularly with food, but the school meals are brought up at around 2 euros per meal. It’s a real hot meal of meat or fish dishes (some silly experiments done with ideological vegetarian food), salads, bread, milk or juice drinks, served on real chinaware at proper canteen tables. Not everyone is perfectly happy of course, but overall it’s good.

  2. 2 Autonomous Mind 11/01/2012 at 11:44 am

    That is very interesting, but there is a hug difference in population to consider. Perhaps it is more acceptable to many to have the cost of a meal foled in with the overall cost of education.

    There is a clear difference between those who think the State should take responsibility for everything and are happy to defer to the political class, and those who think people who can should take individual responsibility. When one considers the track record of the political class and its habit of creeping centralisation of power and removing decision making from the people, it is easy to call for the State’s reach to be shortened.

  3. 3 cosmic 11/01/2012 at 3:55 pm


    This appears to be a convoluted scheme. no doubt with high administrative charges, intended for social engineering.

    It’s my observation that such schemes are expensive and not particularly effective in any way. They often end up being abused and doing the opposite of what they were supposed to.

    It looks like a way of means testing schools in an obscure way and pushing a bit more money the way of schools with pupils from poorer families. The idea is that pushing state money at something which is considered under performing is a sure and certain way to improve it and that a little extra money was the only factor holding it back. This is a delusion.

  4. 4 dave ward 11/01/2012 at 4:33 pm

    “If your child does not want to have a school meal, the school will still get the additional funding”

    Doesn’t this constitute fraud? Every day we read about people claiming one benefit or another, when they don’t need or qualify for it. Having tried (and failed) to get a Blue Badge renewed for my father last year when he was terminally ill, I find this sort of thing disgusting.

  5. 5 Autonomous Mind 11/01/2012 at 5:22 pm

    They have to qualify for free school meals, but clearly from what has been issued qualification is not necessarily based on need.

  6. 6 Brian H 11/01/2012 at 6:41 pm

    It’s like the “enabler syndrome” problem with druggies. Even providing just food or clothing frees up funds for the next hit(s). There’s only one “pocket”, in the end.

  7. 7 Almost American 12/01/2012 at 1:28 am

    Here in the US, schools (around here at least) send out similar letters. There is a lot of school funding here that is based on the level of poverty in the district – which is measured by the % of kids in the school who receive free or reduced-price lunches. Sending the letters out is NOT going to get free lunches (and therefore money for the school) for families who do not qualify.

    There are families in my district who on principle will not apply for free lunches, even though they might be eligible. The letters that are sent home are to encourage them to apply so that the school can at least receive the extra money that will benefit the children academically, even if parents do not want to take advantage of the free lunches.

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