Schools in Surrey are having to wait a whole year to get funding for some pupils who became eligible for free school meals during the pandemic.

Publicly-funded schools receive a pupil premium from the government for any pupils eligible for free schools meals, to help them improve their attainment.

However, because of a government change in how this funding is calculated, schools across the county are losing a total of £1.1 million this year.

Cllr Denise Turner-Stewart, cabinet member for education and learning at Surrey County Council, said: “The impact of Covid has affected many more families on free school meals and the pupil premium and these children will not be counted until 2021, bringing an inevitable lag in funding.”

For the 2021/22 financial year, pupil premium funding will be based on who qualified for the extra payment in October 2020 rather than in January 2021.

So any children who became eligible between October 2020 and January 2021 will have to wait until October 2021.

This affects about 900 disadvantaged pupils in Surrey.

And national policy does not allow councils to use their general funds to subsidise school funding, making them unable to plug the gap.

Liberal Democrats group leader Will Forster raised the issue at cabinet, and Cllr Turner-Stewart said they had been lobbying the Department for Education via the Local Government Association.

She said the county council had supported 20,000 children eligible for free school meals by providing supermarket vouchers in the six weeks of school holidays since Christmas.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Any pupil who becomes eligible after the October census will attract funding in the following year.”

They added: “Pupil premium funding is expected to increase to more than £2.5 billion next year, and per-pupil rates are unchanged – so a typical school will see an increase in its pupil premium allocations this year compared to last.

“We have provided a £14 billion increase in school funding over three years – the biggest uplift in a decade – and school leaders can target our ambitious recovery funding, including £1.4 billion announced last week, to further support disadvantaged pupils with their attainment.”