Doesn’t it feel like we’re hearing stories like this all too often at the moment? A Children’s Society poll of almost 600 teachers has found that many see children going hungry during the school day. Some of these children don’t qualify for free school meals and don’t have money from home to buy lunch.
The charity estimates that there are around 1.5 million children in England who would currently qualify for free school meals. According to the DfE’s most recent census data, almost 1.3 million children in England are actually registered for free school meals (January 2012 census). Our most recent annual surveyestimates that just under 1.1m children are actually taking up their free school meals.
That means that:
• At least 200,000 children aren’t registered for free school meals, but may qualify for them
• Around 200,000 children are registered for free school meals but don’t take them up.
Crucially, we also know that at least some of those children who aren’t signed up are missing out because of confusion about how to get them. In our research on this, we’ve found that some families report not realising they have to register, or that they don’t know how, or that they need help with the process.
It’s a big concern, because we know that for many children their free meal at school can be the only proper meal of the day. Research shows – and any teacher will tell you – that when children eat better, they can perform better in class.
There’s been some great work to make registration for free school meals easier and we work with schools all over the country on making sure families know when they qualify – you’ll find lots of advice and ideas on this on our website. But a big part of getting more families to register for their free school meals is about making school meals the most popular option for lunchtime at school. If schools are able to serve up great food, in a dining room that kids want to spend time in, with enough time for kids to eat and relax for a bit at lunchtime without having to rush, take up of both paid and free meals tends to go up.
When more children who pay for meals are opting to eat in the canteen, we tend to see more children who qualify for free meals taking them up – the peer effect. So all of these issues are part of the much bigger picture; of trying to make school meals the option that every child wants to go for. That way, we can help make sure that a decent meal during the school day is getting to all of those children who most rely on it.
Claire’s our Media Manager. Email Claire.