Free school meal

The term free school meal refers to a sum of money provided for individual pupils in schools throughout the United Kingdom to purchase a lunch time school meal, or to the meal itself. For a child to qualify for a free school meal, their family or carers are considered by the Local Education Authority to be unable to fund a lunch time meal. The authority will then provide either a free meal, or a sum of money considered acceptable to purchase a full meal in the school canteen for that pupil. This often takes the form of tickets, to ensure that the money is only spent on food at school. Periodical reviews are conducted to assess a child's qualification for this scheme.


The 1944 Education Act made it an entitlement for pupils to receive a free school meal. This entitlement was scaled back in 1949 when a flat charge of 2.5 pence was introduced. Over the next thirty years this flat fee was gradually increased, until in 1980, legislation was introduced to remove the requirement for Local Education Authorities to provide a meal for every pupil. Since that date, authorities have been obliged only to provide a meal to those pupils who are eligible for a free meal. Before this, the Liberal Government of Britain introduced measures which gave power for local councils to give free meals for children from poor families in 1906. By 1914, over 158,000 children were fed free meals once everyday. However, the number was low in comparison with all the other poor children who needed free meals.

School League Tables

The percentage of children eligible for free school meals in an area is thought to be a fair measure of deprivation. This figure is therefore used in conjunction with the scores children achieve in SATs, GCSEs and A-levels to determine a school's position in the local and national league tables. If two schools get their children to the same scores, the school with the most children eligible for free school meals is judged to have done a better job, as it has been likely to be teaching children with access to fewer resources and less home encouragement.


Free school meals can be seen as stigmatising to those pupils involved; studies have shown that many of those entitled to free meals do not take them and it can have a negative effect on those that do. Another problem is that not all those children who could benefit from the scheme qualify for it. Organisations such as the Child Poverty Action Group have called for school meals to be made free for all pupils to tackle the problems mentioned above.

By Country


Frances Curran MSP led a broad campaign with widespread support through many children's and anti-poverty organisations to provide free nutritious meals for all Scottish schoolchildren to tackle the problems of poor diet among Scottish schoolchildren. A bill to this effect was proposed in parliament in 2002 but was defeated. A subsequent Scottish Executive consultation which found that 96% of respondents were in favour of free school meals. The SNP introduced free school meals for the first three years of primary schooling as a pilot project in 2007.


In both Sweden and Finland, free school meals are offered to all pupils. This practice has been in place since 1948 in Finland, and was introduced to Sweden in 1973.


The Mid-day Meal Scheme is a school meal programme in India. 120 million children are covered under the Mid-day Meal Scheme in India, making it the largest school lunch programme in the world. Originally only in the states of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, it has now been expanded to all parts of India after a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of India on November 28, 2001.

The scheme involves provision of lunch free of cost to school-children on all working days. The key objectives of the programme are to protect children from hunger and malnutrition, increasing school enrolment and attendance, improved socialisation among children belonging to all castes, and social empowerment by providiing employment for women. Due to the immense cost of catering for so many schoolchildren and the rapid growth of the poor sending their children to school, the government has raised funding for the programme from Rs. 3010 crore to Rs. 4813 crore (Rs 48 billion, $1.2 billion USD) in 2006-2007.

See also


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