UK: Rise in children eligible for free school meals during pandemic

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UK: Rise in children eligible for free school meals during pandemic
UK: Rise in children eligible for free school meals during pandemic

The number of children in England who are entitled to free school meals has risen significantly during the pandemic.

New figures from data in January show more than 420,000 pupils have become eligible for the food support since the first national lockdown in March 2020, taking the total to 1.74 million.

As a result, more than one in five children (20.8%) in England are now poor enough to qualify, up from 17.3% in 2020.

The January statistics are the most up to date, but school pupil premium funding for schools which is linked to free school meals, is for the first time being based on statistics gathered last October.

Wayne Norrie is chief executive officer of Greenwood Academies Trust, which runs 37 schools in the East Midlands and East of England. The majority of its children come from economically disadvantaged families with almost 50% being eligible for free school meals.

He says that over the past three years he has noticed “the children getting poorer in front of our eyes”, with families more dependent on the school for help with food.

Norrie says parents at his school have really struggled and he is increasingly worried about the impact the pandemic has had on his pupils’ language and basic skills.

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