Free School Meal Stigma Preventing Uptake in Wales

October 15, 2018

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A free school meal stigma is causing pupils, parents and schools to miss out on a host of benefits. We see the same story up and down the country, but some new research in Wales has shown just how bad and unnecessary the issue can be.

Free School Meal Stigma Preventing Uptake in Wales

Free school meal stigma and rural pride

A Bangor University study has suggested that in small communities in North Wales, the free school meal stigma is bigger because of large ‘rural pride’. In these smaller communities, pretty much everyone knows everyone else. Parents working multiple jobs will refuse to take up the benefit to avoid being singled out as a family who need extra help.

There’s a respect in the noble approach, wanting to be able to provide for their own family without assistance shouldn’t be looked down upon. But this proud approach is not only costing parents more time and money – it’s costing their children a chance at receiving daily healthy hot meals – and it’s also costing their children’s school a lot of money. For every child claiming free school meals, the school could be claiming extra pupil premium funding – worth up to £1,150 per pupil. Claiming the benefit shouldn’t be looked down upon – it should be looked upon as the smart thing to do to help your family and their school. Simply to help their school’s funding efforts, parents should sign up their children.

In Wales last year, 65,000 pupils were eligible for free school meals, but across the region, only 88% took up the offer. And the take-up rate is worse in these more deprived small communities in North Wales. Headteacher at a school in Holyhead said that 21 per cent of his pupils claim free school meals – but he believes up to 43 per cent are eligible. If everyone signed up, the school’s budget would be greatly bolstered – and hopefully that would in turn be fed back into improving the school and teaching for pupils.

Tackling the free school meal stigma

So how can this free school meal stigma be tackled? There’s clearly a cultural and societal issue in the way we view benefits. Many might find it patronising or offensive to suggest they need the benefit. There’s not much we can do here at FasTrak to change that unfortunate attitude – but what we can do is implement the free school meal benefit for schools in a way that returns privacy and dignity back to the process. The answer is cashless solutions. When a cashless system is used, you don’t have some students paying for meals with cash while others receive their meal for free.

Instead, every pupil receives their school meal without handing over any cash. Parents have either topped up an online account beforehand in which the funds are drawn form, or pupils accounts have been credited with funds from the free school meal benefit programme. When children collect the free school meal in the canteen – there is nothing to single them out as a receiver of free school meals.

Anonymity is given back to the catering process, allowing all students to get a hot healthy meal without fear of any stigma, bullying or self-consciousness. We believe, nay we have seen, how such cashless systems help increase the overall uptake of school meals, but particularly the uptake of free school meals. Find out more about FasTrak’s cashless catering solutions.

BBC: Free school meals ‘stigma’ worries could have knock-on effect

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