Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Free school meals measure 'comes up short'

Plans to base the amount of money a school gets on the number of pupils who receive free meals have caused huge controversy.

The plan means 'poorer' pupils would receive more funding than their more affluent counterparts under his reforms. Few deny that free school meals are a crude measure of social deprivation – but in the absence of any other indicator, that is what remains.

Last year the Department of Education released statistics that revealed just a third (33.9%) of Year 12 pupils receiving free school meals achieved A*-C in five or more GCSEs in 2012-13. That jumped to 66.7% among pupils not entitled to free school meals.

However, the policy has been accused of "robbing Peter to pay Paul" because it will target deprivation by shaving tens of thousands from the budgets of schools in more affluent areas.

The measure is also controversial because it does not take account of the working poor, critics have argued – a reference to parents on low-income jobs whose children are not entitled to free meals.

Now Mr O'Dowd has said that no school will lose out.

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