Boost your school’s Pupil Premium Funding: 7 ways to get parents signed up for Free School Meals
Pupil Premium Grant (PPG) can make a significant difference to your school budget, allowing resources to be used to support disadvantaged pupils to achieve aspirational outcomes. Parents (and schools) are beginning to feel the pinch of the increased cost of living and may be concerned about food prices for making packed lunches. Now is an ideal time to inform your school families of the importance and benefits of applying to check eligibility for Free School Meals (FSM).
In this article, we explore why parents don’t sign up for FSM and share 7 ways to encourage and support them with applying, boosting your Pupil Premium budget.
But first, let’s look at the benefits FSM has for parents and schools.
How do schools benefit from FSM applications?
Bridging the disadvantage gap has been an educational priority since the introduction of the PPG in 2011. The impact of several national lockdowns has substantially reduced the progress made in the last 10 years, schools continue to try to close the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers with limited financial resources. Parents can help increase the school’s funding capacity by applying for FSM for their child, if they meet the criteria, their child will be eligible for Ever-6 funding, allowing schools to make longer-term strategic plans to spend the additional funding. Due to parents’ reluctance to apply for FSM, schools are often supporting disadvantaged children without any additional financial support. If all pupils who were eligible for FSM were on the Pupil Premium register, the impact schools could make would increase.
Why should parents apply for FSM for their child?
Parents may not be aware of the importance of applying for FSM for their child as the funding is given to the school. It is worthwhile to explain to parents the funding is used to better their child’s school experience. Communication platforms can be used to share your school’s Pupil Premium report, explaining how the funding is used and the impact of the spending. Some schools may use PPG to subsidise class trips and visits as well as offer musical opportunities such as guitar or drum lessons during school time, improving the pupils cultural capital. The most notable benefit for parents who are eligible for FSM is the support with school lunches. Secondary school pupils can spend up to £5 per day on school food, totalling over £100 per month on lunchtime meals alone. With the rise in living costs soaring, parents may be very open to the possibility of help towards reducing food costs.
Why don’t parents apply for Free School Meals?
We unpick some of the most common reasons why parents don’t apply for FSM for their children.
Lack of understanding about Pupil Premium and FSM
When children move from Year 2 to Year 3, their meal payments will change as Key Stage 2 children are no longer automatically given free school meals. Parents who would be eligible for FSM may be unaware they must apply to be accepted and miss out on the additional support available. Target your Year 3 parents in the Autumn term to remind them they may be eligible for FSM.
Some parents may not be familiar with the FSM application process and don’t understand that it is their responsibility to apply not the school's. Regular newsfeed updates throughout the academic year signposting parents to the FSM application forms can be beneficial in checking all parents are aware of the benefits and how to apply.
The concept of Ever 6 is not one commonly understood by parents, there may be confusion surrounding the number of times they may have to apply for FSM making them wary of another annual admin task. It can be useful to remind families they don’t have to apply each academic year, even if their financial situation changes.
Free School Meals benefit parents as they no longer have the sole responsibility for preparing school lunches; the child will be provided with a lunch each day by the school. For picky eaters, those with dietary requirements and allergies, parents can lack understanding in the school’s meal provision and therefore avoid choosing hot or deli-prepared lunches for their child. When sharing FSM application information to parents, make sure they know that they can pick and choose when their child has a hot dinner and when they bring their own in from home. You can use your Weduc Parent App to share the menu choices in advance so the parents can choose which days for a hot meal and which for deli or packed lunch. Organising a meal tasting opportunity during application drop-in workshops can help to reassure parents of the quality and variety of meals available.
Negative stigma attached to FSM families
Some parents may think being eligible for FSM holds a negative stigma that questions success as a parent, quash these concerns with the outweighing benefits available for their child via your communication platform. There can be a concern from parents that other families will know they are FSM eligible and have embarrassment attached to these worries. Reassure parents of your school’s confidentiality procedures with a simple post to all of your social platforms via the newsfeed. Using online support drop-in sessions can remove the concerns of other families being involved in their home life. You can share the FSM eligibility criteria with your parents via your parent hub.
Accessibility barriers for applying for FSM
One of the main barriers preventing parents from applying for FSM is accessibility. This may be due to English being an additional language, limited skills with reading or writing or technology use and a lack of time to complete the form. Recognise the common needs for your families and offer support tailored to their needs. Having a translator readily available during your drop-in sessions can remove the language barrier and encourage confidence when asking questions related to the form and the benefits (you may have a staff member or other parent who is willing to help). Champion and promote an inclusive and supportive environment regardless of parental academic ability, strong two-way communication can encourage parents to ask for help with form filling. Via your communication newsfeed, share the typical time taken to complete an application, encouraging time-poor parents to spare 10 minutes after drop-off or pick-up to apply.
7 ways to encourage parents to apply for Free School Meals.
Sending out one reminder is not enough; some parents may need help to overcome the barriers to applying. We share 7 easy ways to encourage your school families to apply for FSM.
1. Make the most of your two-way communication system
Use your communication system to easily share a list of benefits for parents receiving FSM, this should be in a digestible format and have additional translations readily available to meet the demographic of your parents. Using the parent hub section of your Weduc Parent App, you can upload unlimited documents to share, and schedule send for regular intervals throughout the academic year. The previous year’s Pupil Premium report will be downloadable on your school website as a statutory requirement, create a simple one page snapshot of the money spent and impact for the parents.
2. Give parents all the information they will need
Share the link to apply via the Parent App, if paper copies of information are given to parents it can live on the kitchen table or in the bottom of book bags for months before it is simply put in the bin. By sending the link via your Weduc platform, all of your social channels will be included, allowing parents immediate access to check their eligibility.
3. Set up a parent workshop
Run an application workshop for parents, this can be in-person or via an online platform. Plan and save it to the Weduc calendar for all the parents to see the workshop event in advance. Plan the workshops to run at different times of the school day to accommodate for busy parent schedules; this may be straight after drop off or pick up time or throughout the day for those using a virtual workshop method. Alternatively, record a video explaining the process and share it within your parent hub for any that are reluctant to join an in-person or virtual workshop.
4. Support with literary or technical confidence
Offer technological or literacy support, there may be several parents who would be keen to apply for FSM but do not have the literary or technological confidence to complete the application form independently. Offer drop-in sessions that welcome all to a non-judgemental and supportive environment, this can remove the anxiety and panic surrounding parents' own academic abilities.
5. Organise a tasting menu
Offer a menu taster, some parents may be concerned their child will be eating pizza and chips every day if they are on FSM options, or their religious dietary needs can’t be met. When running a drop-in workshop to help with the applications, have a small sample of some of the meals offered on your menu rotation as well as the meal options timetabled on your Weduc Meal Manager app. When parents are confident you are able to cater for every dietary requirement, they may be more open to applying for FSM. Using Weduc’s Meal Manager, your parents are able to book meals in advance as well as control manage minimum and maximum food control (including pudding choices!)
6. Set communication reminders
Schedule your reminders and know when the peak times to target parental applications should be (beginning of Key Stage 2 with the move from infants). FSM can be applied for at any time throughout the year, the beginning of each new term can be a good time to schedule your reminders to parents via your Weduc Parent App.
7. Recognise those who have applied already
Thank those who have attended the workshops and share images of the drop-in sessions on your secure newsfeed to prompt other parents to complete the application process. Seeing the friendly and relaxed atmosphere in the images can prompt other parents to seek out help in applying.
Weduc a communication platform built for effective parental engagement
At Weduc, we know how important parental engagement is; it is at the heart of all of our features!
The Parent App allows for immediate and effective two-way communication between schools and families.
Plus, with the Weduc Parent App, schools can:
- Schedule reminders for form applications across all social media channels.
- Share menu timetables with images and allergy information.
- Share video and documentation support for completing online forms.
- Invite parents to online drop-in workshops to help boost the Pupil Premium budget.