School funding

Election delays universal free school meals funding decision

Schools will receive first payments for 2024-25 based on this year's funding rate

Schools will receive first payments for 2024-25 based on this year's funding rate

Schools will receive their first payments for universal infant free school meals in the next academic year based on this year’s funding rate, after a decision on the new rate was delayed by the election.

The Department for Education told schools, academy trusts and councils today that a decision on the 2024-25 funding rate was delayed because “new policies or funding rates cannot be announced in this period”.

It means the first payments – due to councils on June 28 and academies on July 8 – will be made based on the funding rate for 2023-24 of £2.53 per meal. Allocations will be published on Monday June 24.

Free school meals are already severely underfunded, with the actual cost of providing them once increased staff, energy and food costs are taken into account understood to be around £3.30 per meal.

Schools will have been hoping for an increase in the funding rate from September. Last year it increased by 5 per cent from £2.41.

The government said final universal infant free school meals funding rates for 2024-25 “will be confirmed after the election”.  It is not clear whether schools will receive top-up funding for their first payments to reflect any increase in rate announced after July 4.

Final allocations and payments for the current academic year “will also proceed as planned, with final allocations to be issued on Monday June 24, and payments to be made on Friday June 28 for local authorities and Monday July 8 for academies”.

The meals funding rate is one of a number of key pieces of information for schools that have been delayed by the pre-election “purdah” period.

Others include the new academy trust handbook and the School Teachers’ Review Body’s recommendations on pay for September.

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