Uptake of free Scottish school meals rises


About three quarters of children in the early years of primary school are now taking school dinners, according to figures by BBC Scotland.

Since January, all children in Primaries 1, 2 and 3 have been entitled to a free school lunch. As expected, in most places the number of children eating a school meal has increased significantly.

But some councils are disappointed the rise has not been even greater.

BBC Scotland asked Scotland's 32 councils how many Primary 1, 2 and 3 pupils were now taking advantage of free school meals and how this compared to the situation beforehand when most parents had to pay.

Not all councils were able to provide information publicly or give direct comparisons with previous years.

But the replies indicate that the take-up of free school dinners varies widely from area to area.

As a general rule, between seven and eight out of 10 pupils in Primaries 1, 2 and 3 are now taking a school dinner on a typical day.

Several pilot projects were run last year to try to see just what the extra demand would be. Schools and councils used them to try to work out whether extra staff, cutlery or kitchen equipment would be needed or whether to make practical changes such as extra sittings.

A Scottish government spokesman said: "It is heartening to see uptake increasing around Scotland in the first months of the universal offer and this looks set to improve as parents and pupils become familiar with the new menus being served. The successful roll out of free school meals is a credit to schools and catering staff in councils around Scotland.

"Free school meals are saving eligible families at least £330 a year and universal availability for P1-3 will remove any possibility of free meals being a source of stigma during the first years of a child's schooling, as well as improving health and wellbeing, underlining our commitment to do all we can to support the development of our young people and tackle inequalities in our society."

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