Help Norwich schools get a �2m payout

A rallying call has gone out to parents of Norwich's most vulnerable children urging them to help their schools make the most of a funding pot worth millions of pounds.

The government's pupil premium, introduced in 2010, aims to get youngsters from low-income families extra support by giving schools hundreds of pounds for every child they teach who is eligible for free school meals.

For this academic year, the scheme saw sites in the Norwich North and Norwich South parliamentary constituencies receive an extra �1.1m after �488 for every pupil claiming meals was allocated to the schools of more than 2,200 children.

But Norwich South MP Simon Wright, left, said there were still too many eligible families who had not signed up – meaning their schools were missing out.

And with twice as much money available in the national funding pot next year – a total of �1.25bn – the MP said there could be more than �2m up for grabs for the city.

He said: 'On average, there's thought to be a 5pc difference between the number of children eligible and the number who sign up. That means there was potentially 5pc more cash available to our schools this year.

'The pot of money is doubling next year so there's twice as much money up for grabs. This year Norwich schools got �1.1m – if that doubled next year, it would make a huge difference.'

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With the national funding pot doubling again for 2013/14, to a total of �2.5b, there is likely to be even more money coming this way in the future – but only if parents sign up.

In order to ensure their schools make the most of the 2012 cash, parents have to register their youngsters for free school meals ahead of the schools census in January.

Many city schools have a large proportion of children from low-income families and already City Academy Norwich, in Earlham, and Sewell Park College, in the north of the city, have benefited from more than �100,000 each.

But Mr Wright said families across the East of England were some of the worst in the country for registering, with the problem felt most keenly at secondary schools.

'People are less inclined to sign up for free school meals either because they are worried about possible bullying or because they don't want the meal,' he said. 'But even if you don't want the meal, you need to sign up to make sure your school gets the cash.'

Schools are required to spend the money on schemes and services which will benefit their most needy children but can make their own decisions about what form they take.

At the Hewett School, in Lakenham, where students eligible for free school meals have this year helped their school get �101,000 through the pupil premium, staff are making the most of the money.

Rob Anthony, associate headteacher, said: 'The pupil premium is a brilliant idea. It targets resources at those schools where they are really needed.

'We use it for all sorts of things – additional in-class support, additional revision help for them. Some times we are able to create smaller groups to support young people.'

The government hopes the money will help to close the gap between pupils from low-income families and their wealthier peers.

Alison Thomas, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services, urged families to get in touch to find out more.

She said: 'We would encourage any parent who believes their child may be entitled to make sure that they apply. Free schools meals provide a hot and balanced meal for a child at lunchtime and are also now closely linked with schools' budgets, following the advent of the pupil premium. This means children are effectively benefiting twice from their parents making what is a simple application.

'In Norfolk about 14% of children are entitled to a free school meal but not all parents apply. At a time when family budgets are under increasing pressure we would urge those who think they may be entitled to find out more.'

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