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Give pupils their free school meals change, says Citizens UK

free school meals

Headteachers should give change back to pupils receiving free school meals, a charity has said, after a new report found £65 million of unspent funds are kept by meal providers each year.

Citizens UK warned unspent funding for free meals is not rolled over to use another day but kept by providers, often private companies, schools or councils. One school has already returned an estimated £17,000 to pupils.

All 750,000 secondary school pupils current receiving free school meals are thought to be affected by the issue which sees any remaining credit deducted from the allowance of pupils at the end of every day.

The charity has now launched a national Just Change campaign, calling for an “equal treatment principle” that says pupils receiving free school meals should be entitled to their unspent lunch money like other pupils are to “avoid hunger and stigma”.

They also want a written commitment from catering providers and ring-fenced central government funding to ensure all money earmarked for free school meals children is spent on them.

A regional Just Change campaign began in Citizens UK’s north east chapter, and has so far prompted two schools to change their free school meals system to return change to pupils. A further three schools have now committed to the change.

Maura Regan, chief executive of the Carmel College Trust, which has already made the change, said her school had been “blissfully ignorant” of the “unintended consequence” of the system, and that she felt there was a “moral imperative to act”.

“It appeared that we were supporting pupils on free school meals, but in reality we were stifling them and creating difficulties.

“Once you become aware of something like that it has to become a catalyst for change.”

Regan, who estimates the change has seen £17,000 returned to pupils, said the “bottom line is quite simply that the money wasn’t ours… the money belongs to the children.”

Park View School in Chester-le-Street, Durham, was the first school to uncover the issue in 2017.

Assistant headteacher Alison Moore said she was “shocked and surprised” when she found out about the problems pupils were having with the way the school administered school meals.



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  1. Bobby Goodlegs

    l contacted my child’s secondary school. This was their reply:
    Thank you for your email. This is a new campaign which we will need to discuss with our Governors and Catering Provider once they have had an opportunity to read the original paper which I have attached.

    I can see from the Campaign that they are looking for 3 changes;

    · Students to be allowed to use their allowance at any service

    · Students to be allowed to purchase any food or drink of their choice

    · Unused allowance to be rolled over at the end of the day until the end of each term or year when it could be returned to the catering provider or the school. (It ‘would not allow students to take out cash to be used for other purpose’).

    All of these changes would need to be agreed with our catering contractor and we would need to be happy that the ‘Free School Meal’ is still doing what it is intended to do i.e. provide a healthy school meal.

    Any changes agreed would be for the future and we would not be able to back date these changes.
    Kind regards,
    The Bursar
    How can parents address this problem? As majority schools will use a variety of clauses / corn-laws/by-laws to obstruct parents getting refunds. They are openly guilty of fraud, and knowing withheld funds. They need to be held accountable for their actions, as well as being transparent. Proper money maker for schools dinners.