New data released on free school meal eligibility

30 March 2021

The latest data on free school meals (FSM) shows a large spike in eligibility since the pandemic.

The Department for Education (DfE) has released the data showing how many children were eligible for FSM over the last year. The data shows that 302,400 pupils have become eligible since the first lockdown, taking the total to 1.63 million. 

Usually, FSM data is published based on the January school census day but, reflecting the unusual year, DfE has released data collected in October 2020. The data show a larger increase in pupils eligible for FSM than in any previous year.

About 45% more children became eligible for FSM between March and October 2020 than did in the same period the year before. The numbers are highest in the North East of England where over one in four children are eligible.

As school closures saw pupils learning from home, a variety of options were available for providing FSM. 99% of state-funded schools provided FSM to children whilst at home. Of those, over three quarters used the national voucher scheme, 14% used local vouchers and 13% provided food parcels. Some schools used a combination of options; hence percentages do not sum to 100%.

The increase in FSM numbers is due to a whole host of factors related to the pandemic, which has worsened food insecurity in the UK. However, we know that FSM do not go far enough in addressing the problems, as two in five children in poverty are not eligible. This has been further borne out in data from our Breakfast Boxes programme

The evidence continues to build to show that the Government needs to undertake a review of school food funding and policy.

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