Parents turning down free school meals because of ‘stigma’

Primary schools across West Sussex may soon have to pay for any wastage
Primary schools across West Sussex may soon have to pay for any wastage

A ‘STIGMA’ over free school meals means scores of parents are opting to pay for lunches instead.

And in measures designed to cut the thousands of pounds of wastage, primary schools could soon have to foot the bill for over-ordering.

Under measures brought in by the government in 2014, every child is entitled to a Universal Infant Free School Meal (UIFSM) in the first three years of primary school.

Some children are then entitled to Primary Sector School Meals (FSM) for the remaining three years.

Despite the take-up for infant meals topping 80 per cent, many parents across West Sussex who are entitled to primary meals are refusing them in favour of paying for packed lunches.

“There are a range of initiatives planned around schools taking up the free meals and getting kids engaged,” John Figgins, the county council’s catering service manager said at a children and young people’s services select committee earlier this month. “We need to find out why parents aren’t taking up the meals because they are currently funded by the government.

“I think the stigma comes from parents believing they can provide better meals themselves.

“That must come from the belief that the food is like it was in the 1980s when it was based around cost. But since 2006 and Jamie Oliver’s involvement school food has moved forward a lot.”

The government holds two census days a year when they record the amount of free meals eaten in every school in the country, which then directly corresponds to the amount of funding local authorities receive.

The next one is in October and the meeting heard there were plans to maximise the take-up on the day at every school in West Sussex.

A number of schools are over-ordering the free infant meals, and unless this improves it ‘could create financial risk to school budgets, which will impact on the county council’, the agenda states.

One planned measure to improve this is to introduce online ordering.

There is also no guarantee that the government free meals will continue beyond the two-year period.

The £12.7m contract with the current supplier for FSM and UIFSM, Chartwells, ends on July 31, 2016. Despite members agreeing the standard of meals was ‘exceptionally high’, the contract will legally have to be put out to tender.