Pupils feel ‘stigmatised’ taking free school dinners

Ulster Teachers Union Annual Conference 2014

CONCERN… Sandra Brown

FEARS that their children might be stigmatised are preventing some parents in one secondary school in the county from allowing pupils to take free school meals.

And, there could be others.


The Department of Education has stated that 20 per cent of pupils in schools across the north are ‘boycotting’ free school dinners.

The Fermanagh school did not wish to be identified, but its spokesman told the Herald the take up rate was ‘around the 80 per cent’ mark for schools across the North.

The issue was addressed last week by primary school teacher, Sandra Brown who is the new President of the Ulster Teachers Union.

She described as ‘worrying’ the fact that a fifth of children entitled to free schools meals are not taking them.

“We need to find out why the uptake is not 100%. Perhaps we should ask the young people themselves for feedback on the issue.

“Perhaps children feel stigmatised by being labelled as eligible for free school meals. A survey from union colleagues in Wales revealed that children there would rather forego their lunch than be seen to be taking free school meals.”

The spokesman for the Fermanagh school agreed with the ‘social stigma’ reason.


“As you know, part of our budget is generated by the number of people we have on free school meals, and it means we have difficulty encouraging parents to put in an application (for free school meals).”

Asked if parents feared that children on free dinners might be identified, the spokesman accepted that children did not like to be seen to be taking free school meals.
However, the system the school used prevented that happening.

“We have a fingerprint system which means they don’t have dinner cards that would mark them out.

“When they go up to the till, there’s a fingerprint scanner, so they’re not identified when they pay for their dinner.”

The spokesman revealed that parents of children at the school with educational needs were aware their children met the criteria for free school meals, and yet they still don’t apply.

“We do our best to promote the criteria. We make forms available at every opportunity and we even offer assistance to fill in the forms, so w do try to push it. At the end of the day, it’s all to the benefit of the child.”

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