Free meal guidelines issued by Education Funding Agency

Colleges will get £2.41 for every free meal served to a disadvantaged learner under a new system coming into force this year, the government has revealed.

As part of a plan to introduce universal free school meals, FE colleges will be required by law to offer free meals to qualifying youngsters aged 16 to 18 from September.

A report issued by the Education Funding Agency has set out the legal requirement which will be imposed on colleges, and reveals for the first time the rate that schools will be funded for the meals.

It also reveals that colleges will be given financial help to set up schemes for payment in school, like vouchers or card payment systems.

Corrienne Peasgood

Corrienne Peasgood

The report said: “Maintained school and academy sixth forms are already required by the Education Act 1996 to provide free meals to disadvantaged students who are aged over 16.

“From September 2014, this requirement is being extended to disadvantaged students following FE courses at the range of FE funded institutions. Funding agreements will be amended to place a legal duty on institutions to comply with this requirement.

“In the 2014 to 2015 academic year, institutions will receive funding at a rate equivalent to £2.41 per student per meal taken. Initial allocations will be based on students being matched as previous recipients of free school meals at the age of 15, and subsequent adjustments will be made on a lagged student number basis.”

Free meals will be given to learners who receive, or whose parents receive certain types of income support including job-seeker’s allowance (JSA) and employment and support allowance (ESA). They will also be available to those being supported under part VI of the immigration and asylum act, those claiming child tax credit whose income is below £16,190 a year and those receiving working tax credit and in some circumstances universal credit.

City College Norwich principal Corrienne Peasgood (pictured) said: “The news that there will be help with the set-up costs for allocating and processing free meal payments is very welcome.

“At City College Norwich we will be introducing a new cashless card payment system for all students to use across all of our catering outlets from September. This means that there will be no stigma involved as it will be impossible to know whether any given student is getting the free meal entitlement.

“The set-up costs attached to this will not be insignificant, not least because we have so many catering options on campus, including student-run cafés alongside those run by outside caterers, but we feel strongly that free meal students should have the same choices available as everybody else.

“We will draw on the experience of our partner Academies in the Transforming Education in Norfolk (TEN) Group federation to assist us in implementing an effective system for this.”

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “It is gratifying to see this come to fruition after the success of AoC’s No Free Lunch? campaign in gaining free meals for disadvantaged 16 to 18-year-old students who study in colleges.

“It is good news that colleges will receive a one-off payment to help them put in place
the processes and facilities to provide
free school meals for disadvantaged
students.

“Allowing students to use a cashless system to take meals on campus and in local outlets is also welcome, as is the ability to be able to provide the students with cash in certain circumstances.”