Poor teenagers missing out on free lunches

Updated: 
School lunchTens of thousands of poor teenagers are missing out on free lunches because they attend a college rather than school, it has been suggested.

Due to a funding anomaly, 16-to-18-year-olds who would be offered free school meals if they were at a school sixth form or academy are ineligible.

In a bid to end what they say is an "unfair and discriminatory practice", college leaders have launched a campaign calling for all disadvantaged teenagers to be offered free dinners, regardless of where they choose to study.

The Association of Colleges (AoC), which is leading the No Free Lunch? campaign, said the practice is a bar to social mobility, with more than 100,000 students missing out each year.

It has set up a petition on the Number 10 e-petitions website calling for an end to the inequality.

The anomaly is felt most keenly in Greater London, the north of England and the West Midlands, where high numbers of poorer teenagers are studying at college, AoC research shows.

AoC chief executive Martin Doel said: "Colleges educate almost twice as many students in this age group than schools. Our campaign comes at a time when family budgets are under increasing pressure. The Education Maintenance Allowance has been withdrawn and food costs continue to rise along with transport costs.

"For a modest amount students from some of the most vulnerable areas of society could depend on at least one decent meal a day. Therefore, I am pleased to be working in partnership with MPs, college principals and students across England to help to fight this inequality."

The AoC said that fixing the anomaly and extending the dinners to eligible college students would cost the government £38 million.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "Pupils attending further education colleges or sixth form colleges that aren't part of a school are not able to claim free school meals. We do recognise that this is a concern, but we are looking closely into the situation. In a tough financial climate, difficult decisions always have to be made."

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