No free lunch?
Every year more than 100,000 students in English colleges miss out on a free lunch - unlike their counterparts in school. So the Association of Colleges and its members have launched a national campaign to end this unfair and discriminatory practice which can be a bar to social mobility. The impact of the disparity is particularly keenly felt in Greater London, the North of England and the West Midlands.
If a 16 to 18-year-old from a disadvantaged background studies in a maintained school sixth form, free school, University Technical College, City Technology College, or an academy, they are provided with a free school meal.
If the same student chooses to study at a college they lose that entitlement – due to a funding anomaly. As colleges educate almost double the number of 16 to 18-year-olds compared to maintained school sixth forms - there are 794,000 EFA funded 16 to18-year-old students at colleges compared to 437,000 in maintained school sixth forms, academies and City Technology Colleges this anomaly has a significant impact.
Jwan Butimar, 17 was on free school meals at secondary and now receives the bursary of £60 every half term at college compared to £180 she would have received on EMA. Her average food costs are £3 a day, totaling £90, thus exceeding her bursary.
The AoC, its member colleges and students across the country are now calling on the Government to extend free meals to all 16 to 18-year-olds from a disadvantaged background.
Black and minority ethnic students are particularly vulnerable as they are already more likely to be living in poverty and claiming free school meals compared with other groups. By not being able to claim free school meals, these children are at a significant disadvantage simply because they chose one type of school over another. Given that more students attend college than the other institutions combined, it makes no sense that so many of them should be penalized for it.
Former Principal of John Leggott College in North Lincolnshire, Nic Dakin MP, (Scunthorpe), said:
I know from my experience as a Sixth Form College Principal that students who miss lunch find it difficult to focus and concentrate properly. This affects their studies. For them to have to skip lunch because they simply can’t afford a decent meal makes a travesty of this Government’s commitment to social mobility.
With the removal of Educational Maintenance Allowance, as well as the employment gap that young BME people face, there are multiple financial strains on young people and providing free school meals is one way of alleviating some of the pressure.
As well as the Association of colleges the campaign has the support of the University and College Union and the National Union of Students.
Toni Pearce, NUS Vice President (Further Education) said:
There can be no justification for the basic inequity which says that you can’t get free schools meals if you study at a college from the age of 16 to 18, but can if you study at a school sixth form. Eligibility for free meals should clearly be based on need – not on where you choose to study.
The experience of the college student and the comments of the campaigns’ supporters highlight the absurdity of the policy, and also reveal the shocking fact that some students are skipping lunch because of it. There is an estimated 20 million lunches being missed a year.
The AoC have lodged a petition on the Number 10 website calling for an end to this inequality and members of the public can sign it at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31069 or visit www.aoc.co.uk and click on the ‘No Free Lunch?’ logo.