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More children in receipt of Free School Meals following COVID

The percentage of children in receipt of Free School Meals has risen over the past year, Department for Education figures have shown.

The number of children eligible to have free school meals rose from 20.8% in 2021 to 22.5% this year, representing just under 1.9 million pupils. This is an increase of nearly 160,000 pupils since January 2021, when 1.74 million (20.8%) of pupils were eligible for free school meals.

On census day, 1.6 million infant pupils were recorded as taking a free school meal and, of those, almost 1.3 million received them under the Universal Infant FSM policy.

Children in state-funded schools in England are entitled to receive free school meals if a parent or carer are in receipt of any of the following benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseekers Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • the guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit (provided they were not also entitled to Working Tax Credit and had an annual gross income of no more than £16,190, as assessed by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs)
  • Working Tax Credit run-on - paid for 4 weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit - if you apply on or after 1 April 2018 your household income must be less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including any benefits)

The percentage of pupils with free school meals had been increasing before the COVID-19 pandemic, from 13.6% in January 2018, to 15.4% in January 2019, and to 17.3% in January 2020. The increase during the first period of the pandemic, from January 2020 to 20.8% in January 2021, was higher than each of these previous year on year increases. The increase to January 2022 is in line with those increases seen prior to the pandemic.

Rates of eligibility for FSW were highest in the North East where 29.1% are eligible for free school meals, and West Midlands where 26.5% of pupils are eligible for free school meals. In the South-East, 17.6% of pupils are eligible for free school meals and 18.2% of pupils are eligible in the East of England. However, all regions show some increase from 2021.

The regions which have shown the largest increases are London and West Midlands with increases of 2 percentage points over the 2021 rates.

Rates of free school meals eligibility in 2022 were highest among pupils in the Traveller of Irish heritage ethnic group (63.3%) and Gypsy/Roma ethnic group (51.9%). Rates were lowest among pupils of Indian (7.5%) and Chinese ethnic groups (7.8%).

The average class size in 2022 was 26.7 among infant classes - up from 26.6 in 2021.

Schools, pupils and their characteristics

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