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Free School Meals

Education written question – answered on 3rd February 2011.

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Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what recent representations he has received on eligible families not taking up free school meals due to a perceived social stigma.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

We receive occasional correspondence on stigma in relation to claiming free school meals. It is an issue that we take very seriously-there are clear financial and nutritional benefits for pupils from poorer families taking a free school lunch.

Cashless catering or 'swipe card' arrangements, integrated dining/queuing and pricing meals so that the cost of a meal is the same for those on free lunches as it is for others, are some of the helpful ways schools can minimise the easy identification and stigmatisation of pupils on free meals. Many schools have chosen to invest their targeted kitchen capital funding in cashless systems for this reason.

The Department has worked closely with other Government Departments to develop a Free School Meals Eligibility Checking System, known as "the ECS". The ECS enables local authorities to check data from the Department for Work and Pensions, the Home Office and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs in order to find out if a family qualifies for free school meals. It represents a significant achievement in reducing bureaucracy and cost for local authorities and encouraging more parents to sign up their children for a free school lunch.

Bullying or victimisation of pupils claiming free school meals is totally unacceptable. This is why we are now strengthening head teachers' authority to enforce discipline and ensure good behaviour both in and out of school.

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