Embarrassed to claim free food

PUBLISHED: 12:30 13 January 2011

School dinners

School dinners

Archant

NORTH Somerset schools are missing out on hundreds of thousands of pounds because children and parents may be too embarrassed to claim free dinners, a campaigning councillor says.

Councillor Dawn Parry wants to introduce a card or fingerprint scheme for school meals to avoid ‘discrimination’ she fears some youngsters may feel when they are singled out for not having to pay for lunch.

The Weston West Ward member says the low uptake of free dinners means North Somerset could be missing out on hundreds of thousands of pounds in pupil premium payments.

Central Government provides a £430 payment to a school for each youngster who takes up a free school meal.

This is paid on top of the cost of their meal. However, if a child does not take up their entitlement, the school misses out on the extra cash.

Councillor Parry says that in North Somerset schools there are about 1,000 pupils who are entitled to free school meals, but do not take up the offer, leading to a loss of around £430,000 a year.

Cllr Parry, a town and district councillor, said: “I want to ensure that all our children receive their entitlement and have stigma-free, fair and equal access to meals, which means providing a similar solution to all schools.

“At present, due to our cash payment system children receiving free school meals are identifiable by the others.

“That is not fair and can be seen as discrimination.

“The schools’ white paper clearly gives local authorities a role in promoting social justice, supporting vulnerable groups, improving attainment in vulnerable groups and bringing together services to support children to learn and benefit from education.”

Two secondary schools in North Somerset already have cashless payment systems.

It would cost an average of £15,000 to put a new scheme in place at the others.

North Somerset has the worst achievement gap between those who receive free school meals and those that do not in the country, something which charity Save The Children has said is ‘unacceptable’.

A total of 45 per cent of children who receive free school meals achieve expected levels at English and maths at primary schools, while that figure is 76 per cent for those who do not.

While at secondary school 26 per cent of those pupils who receive free school meals attain five GCSE grades A to C, while the same figure for those who do not is 59 per cent.

That could be due to the cash that the local authority is missing out on, which could be used for teaching aids for those pupils who need extra help.

Cllr Parry also suggests some parents whose children are entitled to free school meals may be too embarrassed to buy them on the day or may take packed lunches as an alternative that may not be nutritious enough.

She added: “Because we have online schools admissions, I would also like to see applications for free school meals completed like this.

“We need to change and adapt our IT to accommodate for it.

“We need to move into the 21st century.”

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