More than 200,000 of England’s “super-deprived” secondary school children may be missing out on free school meals and the Pupil Premium because they don’t show up on official figures, new research shows.

A report published in the December issue of the British Educational Research Journal by Professor Stephen Gorard, of the University of Birmingham’s School of Education, found that there was “no FSM [free school meal] data” for 3.3% of pupils and that these pupils are likely to be among the very poorest in society.

Free school meal data is routinely used as a measure of low parental income and for judging individual and school-level attainment. It is also crucial to the coalition government’s flagship Pupil Premium Policy, which aims to redress inequality by giving schools extra money to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Prof Gorard says: “The pupils for whom we have no data are likely to be among the poorest, the super-deprived. And the 3.3% is unlikely to be spread evenly across the country. Evidence shows they are likely to be concentrated in areas of high density. It is possible that certain inner city schools could be missing FSM data for as many as 10% of pupils, which means 10% of their pupils may miss out on all the additional funding and benefits to which they are entitled.”

For the first time, the report, entitled: “Who is eligible for free school meals? Characterising free school meals as a measure of disadvantage in England”, divides pupils into four groups: Free School Meals, Non-Free School Meals, all missing Free School Meals and missing Free School Meals in state-funded schools and institutions

The report states: “Missing FSM pupils are a third category of low achieving students, often not taking traditional qualifications at Key Stage 4, who are ‘mobile’ between schools and about whom their schools know less. They are frequently disadvantaged in other ways as well and have some appearance of a super-deprived and very low achieving group.”

Prof Gorard added: “There is a danger that 3.3% of secondary school pupils in England are not being correctly identified as being eligible for Free School Meals and their schools are missing out on the Pupil Premium as a result.”

“Schools are in danger of being doubly disadvantaged. Not only may they miss out on their correct Pupil Premium, the context of their attainment results, as judged by OFSTED and others, may not reflect the true picture.”

For more information contact Deborah Walker, Media Relations Manager for Social Affairs at the University of Birmingham. Tel 0121 414 9041 or (m) 07776 465138. Tel 0121 414 9041 or (m) 07776 465138.

To speak to Prof Gorard please call 0121 574 2540 or 07921 846948.

Prof Stephen Gorard is Professor of Education Research and Director of the Advanced Social Sciences Collaborative of the College of Social Sciences, University of Birmingham.

A copy of the full report can be found here: