'STUBBORN' stigma is causing schools to miss out on crucial funding for pupils in need.

That was one of the findings of a new report, about the attainment gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils in Oxfordshire.

Oxfordshire County Council's education scrutiny committee compiled the report, after noting that the county's gap at secondary schools is one of the worst in England.

'Disadvantaged' pupils include those eligible for free school meals, who are typically from a poorer household, and children in care.

Schools that teach them get extra cash from the government to give them better support, called pupil premium.

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However, parents have to inform schools that their child is eligible for free school meals, in order for the funding to be unlocked.

The report, which will be discussed at a meeting tomorrow, said: "[There is] a persistent issue with parents and carers failing to come forward to register for pupil premium eligibility.

"Schools in Oxfordshire make great efforts to encourage them to do so; some even offering a prize draw.

"However, the perceived stigma, anxiety and misunderstanding around registering as eligible continues stubbornly, resulting in schools missing out on sometimes thousands of pounds of funding."

The committee has previously written to the government about the issue, calling for the Department for Work and Pensions to automatically make schools aware of when a child is eligible.

However, the new report states: "No satisfactory response has been received as to why this data is not shared."

The attainment gap is the difference in educational performance of disadvantaged pupils compared to non-disadvantaged pupils.

Oxfordshire is in the worst quartile of local authorities' attainment gaps, despite having one of the smallest percentages of disadvantage at secondary school level.

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Pupils eligible for extra funding are on average 21.5 months behind their peers by the time they sit their GCSEs, the report stated.

Councillors who compiled the document visited four Oxfordshire secondary schools, which had managed to close the gap at GCSE level.

The report said: "The emphasis from al schools was on knowing each child individually as learners, and constantly adapting to changing data to achieve the best outcomes."

It also noted the 'key importance of instilling aspiration and high expectations'.

The report suggested parents who had a poor school experience themselves could be less likely to engage in their child's education.

Councillors said 'collaboration and innovation' are key to closing the gap.

They suggested the Oxford East constituency, which has a high concentration of deprivation, could be put forward as an 'opportunity area' to raise attainment.

There area currently 12 opportunity areas in England, none in Oxfordshire, which get extra funding and support from the government to boost attainment and job prospects.

The report will be discussed by the same committee tomorrow, at a meeting at County Hall in Oxford, starting at 1pm.