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Children ‘missing out’ on free school meals

Children could be missing out on free school meals because of schools not checking often enough for eligibility, according to Cabot Primary School’s business manager.

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Children could be missing out on free school meals in Bristol because their eligibility is not checked often enough, according to a manager at a local school.

Pupils may qualify for free school meals if their parent or carer receives any of a number of benefits, such as income support or Universal Credit. Chris Pring, business manager at Cabot Primary School in St Pauls, said eligibility checks used to happen weekly but now occur once and “that’s the end of it”. He said schools could check eligibility more regularly but it is a time-consuming process without the right software, which smaller schools do not have.

“I think pupils in Bristol are significantly missing out on potentially being eligible for free school meals because that check isn’t being done on a weekly basis,” he told a meeting of school leaders on Thursday, 13 January. Pring said that with the right software, the check is run weekly “forever and a day” and flags up whenever a child becomes eligible for free school meals. “That software is freely available to purchase outside,” he told members of Bristol Schools Forum. 

“It’s too big really for a small school to purchase, but I know bigger schools who’ve purchased it and are reaping the rewards in the fact that that automatically gets checked on a weekly basis. It will flag up those people who are eligible, whereas at the moment, I believe it’s the case, we put it on the system, it gets checked once and once only, unless the school puts it in again.

“Obviously if you’ve got a number of parents that is time-consuming to put it in on a regular basis when there’s an automated system that can easily do it and is readily available.” Bristol City Council’s education director, Alison Hurley, said she was interested in hearing more about the software from Pring after the meeting. 

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