Free school meals is ‘unreliable poverty measure’

Counting the proportion of pupils taking free school meals is an increasingly unreliable way of measuring poverty and the fairness of admissions policies, researchers say.

The BBC reports that St Mary’s University London has found free meals to be a “misleading” marker for deprivation in schools. The study warns of the need to support the “hidden poor”.

Free school meals have been widely used as a way of looking at the social profile of schools – but the research argues that this has failed to reflect changes in the labour market and financial pressures on low-income working families.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that children in poverty are now more likely to be in working families than non-working families.

Among children identified as being in poverty, 67% are in families with at least one parent working, the highest recorded level.

Pupils taking free meals are also used to decide how much money schools receive in the pupil premium, targeting funding at disadvantaged youngsters.

The research by Prof Stephen Bullivant also highlights that the measurement of free school meals pupils is based on take-up, rather than eligibility. There are parents who might be eligible but who do not accept free meals – because of a stigma around children being identified or because of “cultural” reasons for not wanting to accept welfare.

“At a time when schools are facing funding struggles, a multi-faceted approach is needed to ensure that children from deprived backgrounds, who are currently unaccounted for by the system – the ‘hidden poor’ – receive the targeted support they need.”

Read more Free school meals is ‘unreliable poverty measure’

Is it right to link school meals to pupil premium? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter ~ Tamsin

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  1. Anonymous

    Have been saying the same for a long time. Many hard working parents who claim tax credits cannot claim free school meals.

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