SUMS parents pay to see children through school in the county are up for a major review.
The progress of pupils from poorer families in Herefordshire is recognised locally and nationally as not as high as it should be.
Herefordshire Council’s overview and scrutiny committee (OSC) is preparing an inquiry as to why.
At a meeting next week, the committee will hear an outline of the inquiry’s intention to examine the impact of “hidden” costs like uniforms and class trips on families with a school age child or children.
It is, however, unlikely that the inquiry will get underway ahead of the council election in May.
OSC already intends to assess the application of pupil premium funding in county schools.
The pupil premium provides additional resources for potentially disadvantaged children and has to be accounted for by individual schools.
Ofsted pays particular attention to the use of the premium and its impact on pupil outcomes.
In 2010, international antipoverty charity Save the Children cited the county’s run of record GCSE scores as revealing reveals a growing “education gap” trapping pupils from poorer families into limited achievements and expectations.
By then, both the council and the Diocese of Hereford were acknowledging inequalities in pupil performance countywide and have long been fighting for more money with the county historically amongst the worst funded per pupil in the country.
Average per pupil funding in the county has hovered around £4,000.
Hidden cost emerged as an issue during the council’s deliberations over changes to school transport policy.
Scrutiny councillors saw an inquiry into the cost impact the changes would have on some families and awareness of access to bursary scheme.
A policy of providing pupils with free transport to their nearest school only will be implemented next year.
As planned, the inquiry will examine the total costs of educating children in the county’s state schools and through to college.
Evidence would identify whether all be done was being done to ensure that parents were
not disadvantaged from enabling their children to fully participate in education and related activities because of cost.
Uniforms, learning materials and expected contributions for trips and activities are all intended to come with the scope of the inquiry.
Where bursary and assistance schemes are available, the inquiry will assess the take up of such schemes and whether existing systems saw some children “missing out” on opportunities because parent were above thresholds qualifying families for state assistance.
School are open to discuss individual family circumstances if a family has difficulties with contributions.
As intended, the inquiry will take evidence of awareness within schools of the cumulative impact of Individual requests for funding on families, and whether families have been able to influence the demands schools make on them in terms of contributions.
Next Monday, OSC is expected to support starting the first stage of the inquiry, asking officers to collate a range of relevant information and data.
This evidence would then be handed on to a successor committee as advisement on the need for further work.