Posted: 07 July 2013

Fair and Square - free school meals and more

Free school meals are a crucial way for families to make ends meet. Not only do they provide children living in poverty with a balanced meal in the middle of the day, but entitlement to free school meals often also provides families with help for the extra costs of education.

Depending on where they live and the school that they go to, children who can get free school meals may also be entitled to help with the cost of their school uniform, school trips and free music lessons 

Today, Sunday People, which has joined forces with our Fair and Square campaign, examines the links and implications for the families in need but who are denied this vital help.

Have a look below for the full list, or jump to particular subjects:

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School uniform grants 

Many areas offer grants to help with the costs of school uniforms for children on free school meals.  For example, in Wales, the Welsh government offers a one-off school uniform grant to children entering year seven who are eligible for free school meals. This grant is worth £105. 

In other areas of the UK, support with school uniform costs varies and in some areas is provided on the same basis as eligibility to free school meals (so if free school meals were lost, this help would also disappear.)  For example, pupils in Gloucestershire can receive an £80 school uniform grant if their parents receive one of the benefits which also gives them free school meals.

Help with music tuition costs

Many areas offer help with costs for music tuition for children eligible for free school meals.  For example, Bay House School in Hampshire offers music tuition worth £225 per year (£75 per term) to children receiving free school meals.  

In some areas a free instrument is also provided to those on free school meals. For example, children on free school meals in Surrey are offered free group lessons and a free instrument by the county council.

Help with school trip costs

Some schools (such as Park School in Doncaster) choose to use pupil premium funding to support children on free school meals with the costs of school trips. In some cases this may include help with expensive residential trips. Additionally, children on free school meals should also receive free packed lunches for school trips. 

Additional free tuition

Schools such as Yoxford primary school in Suffolk have used the support they receive through the pupil premium to provide additional targeted tuition for children receiving free school meals who need additional attention to meet their potential.

School transport costs

Pupils on free school meals may receive free transport to and from school, which wouldn’t be available to students in higher-earning families. Based on £2 a day bus fare, this help could be worth as much as £390 per school year.

(Some very low income working families with household earnings below around £6500 may also receive this. Some students in higher-earning families get free transport under certain circumstance, eg if the school they attend is their closest school and it is farther than walking distance.)

Concessionary rates for leisure centres

Some areas offer concessionary admission to local leisure centres for children in receipt of free school meals. For example, Shropshire leisure centres offer half price admission for children on free school meals. This means that families with children on free school meals could save £22.50 on 10 weeks of swimming lessons - potentially a saving of more than £100 per year. 

Supporting low income working families

Along with help with school uniform costs, music tuition, free transport to school and concessionary leisure fares, we believe that entitlement to free school meals could provide a package of support worth as much as £820 a year on top of the value of the meals themselves.

However, for the 700,000 children in poverty who can’t get free school meals – or any of this other support - simply because their family is in work, this is just another example of the need for change to make school lunches Fair and Square. 


Join in

If you haven't already joined our Fair and Square campaign, please do.

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If you have already joined our campaign, find out what the situation is like in your area - use our map.

By Sam Royston - Policy team

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