From a school’s perspective, free school meal entitlement can be hard to manage - from tracking entitlement and encouraging registration, to implementing processes at the ‘point-of-sale’.
Yet the challenges can go beyond the logistics. In 2019, The Guardian reported that children in the UK were missing out on more than £65 million of unspent free school meals. This is not only a huge financial deficit that undermines a school's financial stability, but also a major problem for underprivileged children.
In our latest blog, we explore the issue of unspent free school meal entitlement, and how schools can overcome this to ensure every child has access to a healthy meal.
For many children in low-income households, the availability of a free school meal at school is a vital resource, providing a balanced, healthy meal that contributes to their school attendance, attainment, and overall health and well-being.
A healthy diet can have a rapid, significant impact on the behaviour, concentration and cognitive abilities of children. Research has suggested that, by increasing the provision of healthy school meals, schools across the UK could increase achievement by up to 8% among Key Stage 2 children, and reduce absenteeism by roughly 15% across all age groups.
For the UK’s lowest earning families, school meals can often provide a child’s most important source of healthy food. In 2018, research carried out by the Food Foundation suggested that the government’s Eatwell guide was likely to be unaffordable for families living on a low income. They found that families earning less than £15,860 would need to spend 42% of their income (after housing) on food to meet the Eatwell guidelines.
In fact, research has found that children experiencing food insecurity are at a much higher risk of experiencing a wide range of health issues, from chronic illnesses such as asthma, to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
According to recent analysis carried out by inews, as many as one in six children who are eligible for free school meals could be missing out on a healthy meal due to the stigma associated with eligibility for the scheme.
Crucially, this trend is nothing new. In 2012, the Department for Education undertook analysis of data to identify trends in low uptake of free school meals across the UK. It found that the stigma associated with free school meal eligibility was likely to play a significant role in preventing some children from accessing the service, with eligible children in less deprived up to 33% less likely to claim their meal than children in more deprived areas.
While work needs to be done to address this stigma, it’s important that children who don’t access their entitlement each day at the canteen still receive a healthy meal. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
For those pupils who don’t access their entitlement each day, it is not uncommon for those funds to be withdrawn, with many catering systems simply writing off any unused allowance at the end of each day.
This means that if a meal is not claimed each and every day, children could be missing out on funds for food later down the line. This is an important, and often overlooked, aspect of free school meal provision.
It’s an unintended consequence of the system, but it’s also one that schools can rectify.
With the right financial management and point of sale software tools, schools can track payments and spending more effectively, which can help ensure pupils maximise this daily allowance and keep it where it belongs - in pupils’ meal accounts.
This is where Pebble’s financial management and point of sale software can help.
It’s not just about helping schools. It’s about supporting pupils, to ensure those who need to access free school meals aren’t missing out through unspent funds. Schools have a vital role to play in combating food insecurity, and we can provide the right tools to help them do this.
Using our Tali software, schools can create an automated, integrated financial management system that keeps track of payments and allowances, and helps them maximise the benefits of free school meals.
But we also know that effective financial management has to include point of sale too, where pupils interact financially on an individual level with a school’s systems.
The answer? Till.
Till enables your school catering system to roll over its unspent FSM allowances and keep every penny that a pupil hasn’t spent in their account.
Free school meals should support pupils who are disadvantaged, and, by extension, support their families too. The more schools can maximise FSM, the more they are supporting the fight against food poverty.
For more details about our Tali and Till software, please contact the Pebble Team today.
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