According to research recently published by the Department, more than 23,000 disadvantaged children in the east of England are entitled to, but are not claiming, free school meals. What steps is the Minister taking to increase take-up and to ensure that schools do not miss out on valuable pupil premium funding?
My hon. Friend is entirely right to raise this very important issue. It is a concern that the take-up of free school meals varies so much across the country. That is why the Department has now introduced an eligibility checking service to make it easier and quicker to check which families are entitled to free school meals. I can tell my hon. Friend that under-registration for the east of England has actually fallen from 23% to 18% over the past year.
Children from disadvantaged homes and those with special educational needs are most likely to be hit by the cuts to 18-plus funding. When the Secretary of State met the Education Committee just before Christmas, he told us that he regretted the cut, but that it was the best worst option. These children are the closest to being not in education, employment or training; are they really the ones who should be hit hardest and first?
The Minister for Skills and Enterprise, who covers this area, has already responded to this point. These are very difficult decisions that we are having to take as a consequence of the budget deficit we inherited from the previous Government. It is a difficult decision, but I believe that the analysis will show that it is justified.
21. Obviously, the pupil premium plays a great part in providing help for disadvantaged children, including those at Woodrow First school in one of the most deprived areas in my constituency of Redditch. Will the Minister congratulate head teacher Richard Kieran, who provides an imaginative curriculum due to the pupil premium? (901760)
I am delighted to be able to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the head teacher of Woodrow First school. I was particularly pleased to be able to visit that school with my hon. Friend at the end of last year to see the fantastic work that is being done, and I was also encouraged by the strong support she is giving to all the schools in her area.