Labour MP David Blunkett said it was “unjustifiable” that more than 100,000 students miss out on a free school meal because of where they study in a Westminster Hall debate this morning.
Currently, a 16 to 18 year-old from a disadvantaged background studying in a school sixth form, free school, University Technical College or an academy, is provided with a free school meal, but if the same student chooses to study at a college they lose that entitlement.
A ‘No Free Lunch?’ campaign has been launched by the Association of Colleges (AoC) to address the problem.
In response to the former education secretary and MPs from across the country the schools minister Nick Gibb said: “We do recognise the anomaly, but it is not a new anomaly.”
He said that in the current fiscal climate it would be difficult to increase the budget by £35-70 million, but that he would keep the issue “under review”.
Martin Doel, chief executive of the AoC, said: “The fact that this is not a new funding anomaly does not mean that it’s not something that should be addressed by the government at the earliest opportunity; it is not enough to keep it under review.
“These students and their families are among the most vulnerable in our society – not helping them just because they have chosen to continue their education in a college flies in the face of the government’s oft-professed commitment to social mobility and is unjustifiable.
“AoC estimates that removing this inequality and extending the provision of free lunches to eligible college students will cost the Department for Education £38million out of their £56billion budget – this is equivalent to 1p in every £14 spent – and we consider this a reasonable price to pay for equality for these students. We will continue to make the case for parity of funding in order to get these young people the support they need to stay in education.”