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School cash budgets miss out when pupils fail to claim for free meals

PUBLISHED: 20:00 25 August 2013

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SCHOOLS are missing out on hundreds of thousands of pounds due to children not claiming free school meals.

Around 375 children in North Somerset who are entitled to free school meals are not claiming them, meaning schools are losing out on around £337,500.

Schools are given a pupil premium for every child who is registered for school meals – the rate currently stands at £900 per pupil each year.

North Somerset Council is now trying to track families down to let them know they are entitled to free meals.

Cllr Jeremy Blatchford, the authority’s executive member for children and young people’s services, said: “We have developed a system for collating information so we can try to find out children who are entitled to free school meals and aren’t claiming them.

“We can do this because they might already be claiming something off us, like housing benefit.

“Parents are unintentionally taking vast amounts of money off the school budget.

“They obviously might not want to take up the free meals, but we want to make sure they know they are entitled to them.”

Eighty per cent of children who are eligible for school meals in the district currently sign up to free dinners – around 1,500 children.

School meal uptake in North Somerset is slightly higher than the national average, but the council is striving to reach its target uptake of 90 per cent.

Lynda Mitchell, commissioning and contracts manager for the council, said: “We are proud of the quality of the school meal provision which provides high quality hot meals to pupils in every school in the authority and have seen school meal uptake double in the past six years.

“We have set an ambitious target of ensuring 90 per cent of entitled children take up their free school meal as we are clear of the links between a good diet, which includes a well cooked, hot nutritious school lunch, and the ability of pupils to concentrate, learn and behave better in the classroom.”

The council and schools are keen to make people aware of free school meal entitlement and information is given out with admission letters which can also be found on individual schools’ and the council’s website.

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