Lower attendance among North Yorkshire's free school meal students
School attendance among pupils on free school meals in North Yorkshire was lower than that of their peers before the Easter break, figures show.
Teachers’ unions say the Government must do more to help disadvantaged families who have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Pupils across England returned to classrooms from March 8, apart from those unable to attend due to Covid-19 or extremely vulnerable children who are still shielding.
Department for Education figures reveal 91.1% of pupils were being taught on site at state schools in North Yorkshire on March 25 – the last snapshot of attendance taken before many schools across England finished their spring terms.
But this dropped to 86.6% for students eligible for FSMs, which are available to children who receive – or whose parents receive – certain government benefits.
The figures, which include state-funded primary, secondary and special schools, are based on a response rate of around 81%.
Nationally, overall attendance was 90% on March 25, while for FSM-eligible students it was 86%.
But the National Education Union said Covid-19 has compounded the challenges facing disadvantaged families, who have been disproportionately affected by the virus.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “The pandemic has shone a light on the realities of poverty in the UK, with many thousands of children added to the dreadful statistics over the past year.”
She added: “Clearly, the Government must redouble its efforts to support disadvantaged families, children on FSMs, and address the wider challenges they face."
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, also called on ministers to tackle “the scourge of child poverty” in the wake of the pandemic to address inequalities in education and wider society.
At primary schools in North Yorkshire, overall attendance was 94.2%, compared to 90.9% for those on FSMs, while at secondary schools, the figures were 87.8% and 80.2% respectively.
Magic Breakfast, which provides morning meals to thousands of pupils across the country, said it heard from schools during lockdowns that many families were struggling to put food on the table, and were forced to visit foodbanks for the first time.
A DfE spokeswoman said: “Schools are the best place for children’s education and wellbeing, and we want to encourage all children eligible for FSMs to attend.
“We have made sure that throughout the pandemic schools have continued to accept applications for FSMs, providing meals to anyone who becomes newly eligible, including while pupils were learning remotely.”
She added that the Government has committed to extending the Breakfast Clubs programme for disadvantaged pupils over the next two years, and other schemes to help children out of term time.