HERMITAGE Academy’s head teacher has pledged to ensure that grants for clothing, footwear and free school meals are taken up by those who need them.

Robert Williamson made the promise after a report revealed a five-year decline in pupils at the school who are taking up the financial help available.

Clothing and footwear grant claims at Hermitage have fallen from 14.5 per cent of pupils in 2014/15 to 10.8 per cent in 2018/19.

The claims for free school meals have also gone down sharply, with 7.5 per cent of pupils claiming last year compared to 10.2 per cent in 2014/15.

The declines in figures were picked up on by Councillor George Freeman, who questioned Mr Williamson at Argyll and Bute Council’s Helensburgh and Lomond area committee meeting.

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Cllr Freeman pointed out that for the whole of Argyll and Bute, the rate of free school meal claims in 2018-19 was 11.31 per cent - higher than at any time in the last five years.

He said: “Looking at this information, on the free school meals, the percentage [at Hermitage] has dropped considerably over five years but the authority average has increased.

“Clearly we seem to be bucking the trend in Argyll and Bute, but if you were to exclude Helensburgh and Lomond from that, the area average would be higher still.

“Is there any reason for that? The same applies for footwear and clothing grants – is there any reason that they have come down so significantly?”

Mr Williamson replied: “My worry is that pupils are not claiming, and that is becoming a problem, because there is a bit of a stigma attached to it.

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“We will have a drive to ensure that it is claimed where it is needed. We will do this compassionately, but it may be difficult to visit because it is not something you want to visit publicly.

“It is about ensuring there is a way people can contact us, and the best way is the pupil equity fund.

“I cannot take measures for the whole community but I suspect the low percentages are down to non-claimants.”

Mr Williamson also said at the meeting that there are 16 pupils at the school with “serious issues that are barriers towards their learning”.

Councillor Lorna Douglas said on the matter: “These statistics might change a bit, but I was just wondering if there are any family support workers who go out and get pupils to school?”

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Mr Williamson said: “We have two family liaison workers who have been engaging with families and at times, have been driving the pupils to school.

“We will increase the use of their services as much as possible.

“In terms of attainment, seven of the 16 are still with us. A couple have college places and are part of our positive destination data.

“There are no disastrous figures – most are closely in line with the virtual comparators.

“Young people are absolutely designed on what they want to be.”

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