10 Dec 2018

How can we help children who need free school meals?

There are thousands of children who need free school meals but don’t access them. We want to do something about it, and we need your help.

Local authorities have identified that thousands of children may be eligible for free school meals, but not registered. Despite the known impact of deprivation on attendance, behaviour, and attainment, there isn’t a clear and shared knowledge on the causes of the problem.

  • Are parents/carers unaware of the service?
  • Is it too difficult to access?
  • Are children declining free school meals and if so why?
  • Is there a stigma attached to free school meals?

What’s happening in Scotland?

The independent analysis published alongside the Scottish Government’s ‘Every child, every chance: tackling child poverty delivery plan 2018-2022’ shows the extent of poverty in Scotland. If no action is taken beyond what has already been announced, it estimates that by 2030/31, 38% of children will be in relative poverty, 32% in absolute poverty, 17% in combined low income and material deprivation, and 16% of children will be in persistent poverty.

The poverty-related attainment gap is also increasing. The Growing Up in Scotland survey shows that at age 3 and 5, children from high-income households outperform those from low-income households. According to the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy, only around 70% of the most deprived students get 50% or more in numeracy at level P4. In contrast, more than 80% of the least deprived students get 50% or more.

What are we doing about it?

North Lanarkshire Council, Snook, and UrbanTide have secured funding from The Innovation Fund, a collaboration between the Scottish Government and The Hunter Foundation, to ensure we understand the scale and nature of low uptake. Before exploring new ways to tackle child poverty, we want to make sure that existing policies and benefits actually reach the people who need them.

  • How do we ensure that the children who need free school meals actually get them?

There are several layers to this question:

  • Who are the children who need free school meals but are excluded by the current criteria due to their family’s specific financial circumstances, and how can we reach them?
  • How can we reach the children whose families are eligible for free school meals but not registered? Is it by choice or is it because the service is inaccessible?
  • What can we do to make sure that the children who are registered for free school meals actually take them?

The project will start with complex data analysis, involving personal and geographical data as well as datasets held in fragmented systems under strict licences. By securely unlocking this data we will get a clearer picture of the current number of children missing out on free school meals across a geographic area. This will enable us to target our interventions in specific schools during the trial phase.

Through user research, we will create a deep understanding of families’ experiences and identify the barriers that prevent children from accessing free school meals. We will design a series of interventions to test the validity of the findings and explore ways to tackle these barriers.

Start small, dream big

Although the focus is on free school meals, our eyes are on the bigger picture: including breakfast clubs, weekend and holiday programmes, clothing grants, and other consequences of deprivation. In short, we want to make sure every child has the start in life that they deserve, no matter where they come from.

Can you help?

We would like to link up with organisations who have worked or work on this topic so that we can learn from your experience. We would also like to work with organisations who support families that might be eligible for free school meals, so that we can work together and create interventions that fit seamlessly within the way you work. We’ll share all the project outputs, including the report, algorithms, interventions, and evaluation will be published under an Open Government Licence.

If you might be able to help, please get in touch with linn@wearesnook.com.

Watch this space, we’ll share the progress of our mission to make free school meals as desirable and accessible as possible.