A government scheme to give free meals to young pupils could lead to Bradford schools losing out on thousands of pounds, fears a senior politician.

From September, all children in reception and Years 1 and 2 will automatically receive free school dinners.

Currently primary school children only get free school meals if their family receives benefits or tax credits and if that information is registered.

Children registered for free school meals trigger a “pupil premium” – a payment to the school to help improve attainment of these children, often from disadvantaged backgrounds. For primary schools, this is £1,300 per pupil.

However, with just a few months before universal free school meals begin, schools and education chiefs are worried that parents of new starters will not register their children for free school meals as they will receive them for free for three years anyway.

If eligible parents fail to register their children, it could leave schools missing out on thousands of pounds.

School governing body Ofsted also looks at numbers of pupils registered for free school meals when it comes to inspections – so fewer registered pupils could also mean schools suffer when it comes to judgements.

A recent meeting of the Bradford Schools Forum was told that schools needed to do all they could to make parents aware that they still needed to register their child for free meals.

Coun Ralph Berry, the executive for children’s services at Bradford Council, said: “The risk is it cuts across the policy of pupil premium. There are a lot of working poor, and some families are reticent to claim benefits.

“We have had teachers telling us that in order to keep getting pupil premium they will have to pressure families to still claim. If children are getting free meals for the first few years without families having to claim, then they might not, and school budgets will be hit. We have to work hard to ensure every potential new child signs up.”

Trish Gavins is the headteacher of Whetley Academy in Whetley Lane.

She said: “We’ve already put information on our website with links to application forms for free school meals. It is a danger that families won’t register until children are seven.

“Some schools will be very disadvantaged. It will make a big difference if schools don’t get the pupil premium they need. We will have to try and make sure this doesn’t happen."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "Schools will continue to receive pupil premium funding on the same basis as now.

"In local authority areas that have already introduced UIFSM [universal infant free school meals], the number of eligible pupils not claiming free school meals is very low.

"There will continue to be a very strong incentive for parents to sign up — at £1,300 per child the pupil premium will mean significant extra support for their child. Schools also have a very strong incentive to identify eligible parents."