FREE SCHOOL MEALS
Overcoming the perceived stigma
It is well known that many children who are entitled to free school meals do not take up the offer. Figures from January show 1,307,455 pupils registered for free school meals, a key measure of poverty. Of these, 82.7% actually took up the dinners, meaning 225,690 schoolchildren were not eating the free meals for which they were registered.
Official figures suggest that in state-funded secondary schools 16.3 per cent of pupils ( 452,600) were known in January 2013 to be eligible for and claiming free school meals, a small increase from 16.0 per cent in 2012. In maintained nursery and state-funded primary schools 19.2 per cent of pupils (774,610) were known to be eligible for and claiming free school meals, a small decrease from 19.3 per cent in 2012.
For many children, their free school lunch can be the only full meal they eat in a day. But too many pupils who would qualify are either not registered to have their free meal, or choose not to eat it. Part of the problem may be the perceived stigma attached to FSM. In order to encourage all schools to take action to remove this stigma and to encourage all those who are eligible to apply, the DFE provides guidance on good practice and steps that schools and local authorities can take to encourage take-up of free school meals, for example by informing parents that registering for free school meals is confidential. Schools and local councils can also provide free lunches to children not eligible for free school meals if they wish, or to subsidise school meal prices for certain groups of children.
The Department’s online Eligibility Checking Service enables parents to apply for school meals without having to give the school information about their income from benefits or earnings. DFE are encouraging local authorities to increase their use of this resource so that more parents have the opportunity to apply online.
A number of schools and local authorities have implemented cashless payment systems, which help ensure that those children who are receiving free school meals cannot be identified.
According to DFE there are good practices schools can implement to registration. In particular, schools should consider letting parents know:
That registering their child as eligible for FSM will bring more money to the school to help their child achieve.
What the school will spend the Pupil Premium on, so they are incentivised to apply.
What, if any, other benefits may be available for children registered as eligible for FSM, i.e. help with the cost of music lessons or school trips.
That registering for FSM is confidential and their peers, and their child’s peers, will not know they have applied.
What registering for FSM involves and what it means for their child, including the fact that taking up the meal is recommended but optional.
This is in addition to any information the school may be able to provide about the benefits and quality of school meals.
You can download an example letter to parents, based on good practice examples from schools. This letter can be personalised and sent out to parents to encourage registration.
Who qualifies for FSM?
You can register your child for Free School Meals if you get any of these benefits:
• Income Support
• Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
• Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
• Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
• The Guarantee element of State Pension Credit
• Child Tax Credit, provided they are not entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual income (as assessed by HM Revenue & Customs) that does not exceed £16,190
• Working Tax Credit ‘run-on’ – the payment someone may receive for a further four weeks after they stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit