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Free school meals move to benefit children and schools

Children and young people

Wednesday, 19 June 2024
A healthy school dinner served up at Pallister Park Primary School

A change to the way free school meals are managed in Middlesbrough will see more children benefit and extra funding provided to schools.

Middlesbrough Council’s Executive has approved a pilot meaning eligible children will automatically be enrolled in the scheme.

At present families must apply, ensuring not all qualifying children receive the support. The pilot will see the Council use existing data to confirm eligibility.

A report presented to the Executive on June 26 explained how introducing auto-enrolment would mean more children would receive a free meal and also provide additional funding to schools.

Under the pilot, families would still be invited to apply but the auto-enrolment process would act as a safety net. Parents will still have the option to opt out.

The pilot supports one of the Council’s four priorities - to make Middlesbrough a healthy place - and contribute to reducing poverty by saving eligible families an average of £400 per year.

In Sheffield, where auto-enrolment was introduced in 2016, it’s estimated the policy has resulted in 5,000 children benefiting, with approximately £3.8m generated in pupil premium funding for schools.

Pupil premium funding is provided by government for children who meet the criteria and is used to support disadvantaged students of all abilities reach their full potential.

A small sample of 60 Middlesbrough households has been assessed, with the results suggesting 11 families were missing out on free school meals.

Based on this sample alone, the town’s schools are missing out on thousands of pounds in pupil premium funding. Funding for eligible primary school children is £1,400, with secondary schools receiving £1,100 for their students.

Reasons for families not claiming free school meals include the process of applying, low levels of literacy, language barriers and stigma.

The pilot will be funded by the Council’s public health grant. This money can only be spent on public health-related projects.

South Tees Joint Director of Public Health Mark Adams said: “This pilot would benefit children and schools across Middlesbrough and demonstrate to us how much of a difference a long-term auto-enrolment approach would make.

“We want to ensure as high a take-up as possible for free school meals, so that eligible children are getting access to a healthy meal that is so important to their development.

“Confirming eligibility for free school meals has the additional benefit of securing pupil premium funding for the child’s school. Our schools do incredible things for the town’s young people and we want to support them as much as we can.”