Free school meal
||The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United Kingdom and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (May 2013)|
A free school meal is a school meal provided to a child or young person during a school break. Very few countries provide this to all school children regardless of their ability to pay.
Free school meals are available to those who are eligible, from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in all countries (with the exception of Australia where free school meals are not available) although in Scotland free school meals are available at the discretion of individual education departments of local authorities and in Spain, some children, but not many (figures not available) are entitled to free school meals (again, information on Germany and Canada was not obtained). Reduced price meals are also available to those who need a degree of assistance with costs in the Republic of Ireland, France, Italy, Hong Kong, Japan and the U.S.A.
|Country||Free School Meals|
|UK||only for some|
|USA||only for some|
Estonia provides free school meals to all pupils in compulsory education regardless of their ability to pay.
Finland provides free school meals to all pupils in compulsory education regardless of their ability to pay since 1948.
In the UK, a free school meal is a school meal provided to a child or young person during a school break and paid for by Government.
For a child to qualify for a free school meal in England and Wales, their parent or carer must be receiving one of the qualifying benefits:
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseekers Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
- the guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
- Child Tax Credit (provided they are not also entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual gross income of no more than £16,190)
- Working Tax Credit run-on - paid for 4 weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
- Universal Credit
A child in receipt of any of these qualifying benefits in their own right is also eligible to receive free school meals.
Free school meal applications are dealt with in different ways depending on the Local Authority in which the child’s school is located. Some Local Authorities provide a centralised application process, whilst in other authorities, individual schools deal with their parents/carers application. Usually the school caterer is informed of a pupil's eligibility by the school. It is unusual for pupils or their parents to be given physical cash for a meal.
In the past, when applying for a free school meal, parents had to present evidence of their qualifying benefit, usually in the form of a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) or the Home Office. This was a slow, complex and time-consuming paper-based process. In October 2007, the Department for Education launched a pilot of the Free School Meals Eligibility Checking Service (ECS) for Local Authorities.
Local Authorities using the ECS can check applicants' eligibility without the need for claimants to submit evidence of qualifying benefits. The ECS checks against data from HMRC, DWP and Home Office to enable Local Authorities to verify a claimant's eligibility. The ECS gives Local Authorities no particular information about a claimant, it simply states whether or not a claimant is eligible. It gives no information regarding the particular type of benefit the claimant is receiving.
The ECS was rolled out to all Local Authorities in March 2008. 162 of the 174 English and Welsh Local Authorities have used the ECS. In September 2009, a ‘web service’ facility was made available on the ECS. This means that Local Authorities can now provide a seamless real-time eligibility checking service, allowing parents to apply online for free school meals in one quick, simple and easy process. Parents and Local Authorities are immediately informed of eligibility and with automated notification to schools, children can be provided with a free school meal as early as the following day. The ECS has helped Local Authorities to streamline their application processes and more importantly has helped over a million children access the benefit in a fast and efficient way.
As of September 2013, it was announced that all children in English schools in school years reception, one and two will be entitled to free school meals, costing the UK £600million per year. The government has no power to impose this on Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but they will be provided with funding.
The Liberal Government of Britain introduced measures which gave power for local councils to give free meals for children from poor families in 1906. By 1914, over 158,000 children were fed free meals once everyday. However, the number was low in comparison with all the other poor children who needed free meals.
The 1944 Education Act made it an entitlement for pupils to receive a free school meal. This entitlement was scaled back in 1949 when a flat charge of 2.5 pence was introduced. Over the next thirty years this flat fee was gradually increased, until in 1980, legislation was introduced to remove the requirement for Local Education Authorities to provide a meal for every pupil. Since that date, authorities have been obliged only to provide a meal to those pupils who are eligible for a free meal.
In 2004 14.3% of pupils in English schools were eligible for Free School Meals 
School league tables
The percentage of children eligible for free school meals in an area is thought to be a fair measure of deprivation. This figure is therefore used in conjunction with the scores children achieve in SATs, GCSEs and A-levels to determine a school's position in the local and national league tables. If two schools get their children to the same scores, the school with the most children eligible for free school meals is judged to have done a better job, as it has been likely to be teaching children with access to fewer resources and less home encouragement.
Scotland (United Kingdom)
Frances Curran MSP led a broad campaign with widespread support through many children's and anti-poverty organisations to provide free nutritious meals for all Scottish schoolchildren to tackle the problems of poor diet among Scottish schoolchildren. A bill to this effect was proposed in parliament in 2002 but was defeated. A subsequent Scottish Executive consultation which found that 96% of respondents were in favour of free school meals. The SNP introduced free school meals for the first three years of primary schooling as a pilot project in 2007.
Free school meals can be seen as stigmatising to those pupils involved; studies have shown that many of those entitled to free meals do not take them and it can have a negative effect on those that do. Another problem is that not all those children who could benefit from the scheme qualify for it. Organisations such as the Child Poverty Action Group have called for school meals to be made free for all pupils to tackle the problems mentioned above. Tests of these free-school-meal-to-all programs have been funded by Share Our Strength in some school districts in the United States of America.
United States of America
- Reduced price meal
- School breakfast club
- School Food Trust
- Oslo breakfast, a morning meal provided to all students
- Childrens Food Trust
- Jamie Oliver Food Foundation
- "The provision of school food in 18 countries".
- "The Swedish School Meal as Public Meal".
- "Apply for free school meals". Gov.Uk. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- OCR British Depth Study 1906-1918 by Colin Shephard & Rosemary Rees (2002) ISBN 0-7195-7734-9
- "The Case for Free School Meals" (PDF). Child Poverty Action Group. Retrieved 14 January 2007.
- "Wasted talent? Attrition rates of high-achieving pupils between school and university" (PDF). The Sutton Trust. 2008. Retrieved 30 June 2009.[dead link]
- Campaign for Free School Meals - Scottish Executive School Meals Bill
- "State Partnerships to End Childhood Hunger in America". Share Our Strength. 2009.
- "Campaign for Free School Meals". Child Poverty Action Group. Retrieved 18 February 2006.
- Consultation on Free School Meals Bill