I know that we were one of the lucky ones who avoided...
- Education Professionals
Stigma means poorer children shun free school meals
Research by the Institute for Social and Economic Research highlights the stigma of receiving free school meals. It also says that the fact that children who are eligible for them often have to sit apart from their friends because of lack of space or eat at different times, are key factors that lead to 300,000 families a year not using the benefit despite their entitlement.
More than 1.1 million children are eligible for free school meals, calculated to be worth around £400 a year to parents. They also ensure that children are able to eat a nutritionally balanced meal.
Not claiming for free school meals also means that schools miss out on accessing funding for the Pupil Premium, which is currently worth around £600 a year for every child who has been registered for free school meals at any time in the past six years, as well as children in care who have been looked after for more than six months, and children whose parents are in the armed forces.
Schools are only able to claim the funding for children whose parents have declared that they are eligible for free school meals.
Local authorities have asked schools to actively encourage parents to sign up for free school meals in order to access the additional £600 per pupil.
At the weekend, schools minister David Laws told the Liberal Democrats conference that the pupil premium would increase to £900 a year per pupil in September 2014.
The research by Angus Holford at ISER, based at the University of Essex, shows that peer pressure and prejudice affect parents' decisions about whether to apply for free school meals.