Pupils on the government's free school meals (FSM) scheme are beginning to close the attainment gap on their wealthier peers.
According to a statement released by the Department for Education, 74 per cent of primary school children receiving FSM achieved the expected level or above in maths, compared with 87 per cent of all other pupils. This represents narrowing of the attainment gap of three percentage points since the premium was introduced in 2011.
There was also an increase in attainment among the most disadvantaged children, with those eligible for FSM in the past six years or looked after children improving their performance. The number of such children receiving level 4 or above in reading, writing and maths increased by two percentage points to 63 per cent in 2013.
The challenge for schools this year was greater than last year, as pupils are now required to achieve the basic standard in reading and writing, rather than English overall.
Schools minister David Laws commented: "It is encouraging to see that the attainment gap continues to narrow between the worst off and their peers but there is more work to be done."
The encouraging news comes as Mr Laws announced an extension to the pupil premium scheme for this financial year and the provision of extra funding for 2014-15.
In a written statement, the minister confirmed the final figures for pupils eligible for the scheme have been announced and that an extra £53 would be provided per pupil for those currently eligible for FSM or who had been eligible during the past six years.
The money comes on top of the £900 primary schools currently receive for their FSM 'ever 6' pupils. "Primary schools will be able to use this additional funding to further raise pupil attainment," said Mr Laws.
It was confirmed that the pupil premium budget would rise from £1.9 billion to £2.5 billion during the 2014-15 financial year.
Mr Laws also announced that the pupil premium plus for looked after children would more than double from £900 to £1,900.
The role of the virtual head will also be strengthened to ensure the funding is managed to provide maximum benefit and an extension of the FSM scheme will provide support for children who have been adopted from care.
Posted by Harriet McGowan.