Cambs schools ‘letting down deprived pupils’

EIGHT of Cambridgeshire’s primary schools have more than 30 per cent of pupils entitled to free school meals – but, in spite of the extra money they attract to the schools, they are still under-achieving academically.

The county comes 12th from the bottom of more than 152 English authorities in league tables for achieving five A* to C grades in GCSEs including English and Maths, with only 25 per cent of the pupils on free school meals achieving these targets in Cambridgeshire, according to Liberal Democrat education spokesman Councillor Peter Downes.

“That’s not good performance,” he told The Hunts Post. “Schools need to ensure that the extra money is spent on the pupils for whom it is intended.

“There’s anecdotal evidence that some heads are using it as a way of filling black holes in general funds,” he added.

“There are eight schools in the county, two of them in Huntingdon, Thongsley and St John’s, where more than 30 per cent of pupils are on free school meals. Bushmead and Winhills in St Neots are only just below.” The Liberal Democrats are proposing that those eight schools should be given extra county council cash next year.

“Children on free school meals tend to do better in urban areas.

“We are genuinely concerned about the gap between the best and the worst. Unfortunately, how wealthy parents are has been a deciding factor in a child’s chances for too long. And I cannot think why we should be worse than our neighbouring counties,” said the former Hinchingbrooke School head, who is also a past president of the Secondary Heads’ Association.

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In a bid to close the national performance gap, Children’s Minister Sarah Teather has allocated an extra �600 per free-school-meals child, the Pupil Premium, to enable schools to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds by providing extra one-to-one tuition, more teaching assistants or after-school activities, Mr Downes said.

This year, the amount available nationally for the Pupil Premium will be doubled to �1.25bn and this will increase to �2.5bn by 2014-15.

“I believe we cannot let this continue and that is why we must help children reach their full potential. In the Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats’ budget amendment we propose to enhance the Pupil Premium by �250 per pupil in the eight most deprived schools in the county.”