Falling numbers for free school meals but rates still among highest in country

children legsThe number of pupils claiming free school meals is continuing to fall in London. However, there is a greater proportion of children in nursery, primary and secondary schools claiming free lunches here than in many other parts of the country.

New data from the Department of Education shows that nearly 17% of London pupils are receiving free school meals in nurseries and primaries – more than two percentage points higher than the average in England.

Only the North East and West Midlands regions have a higher proportion of youngsters on the free meal scheme.  In Tower Hamlets and Hackney more than a third of under 11s are receiving free meals. The Merseyside borough of Knowsley is the only local authority with a higher rate.

In Southwark, a fifth of children are claiming free meals, a slight increase on last year.  But the numbers are down in Lewisham and Westminster, and the largest decrease took place in Islington where 29% of pupils are claiming school meal benefits, down from 38% last year, but still the third highest rate in the capital.

Free school meals primary

The trend is similar among secondary school pupils. On average, 13% of children over 11 are on the free meal scheme across England. The rate is similar in Outer London but significantly higher within inner London, with more than 40% in Tower Hamlets and 30% in Hackney and Islington. In Camden and Lambeth it is around a quarter of secondary school children.

Free school meals secondary-2

London varies hugely with outer areas pushing the capital average down.  Boroughs in the South West score as low or lower than many other parts of the country, with both Kingston upon Thames and Richmond upon Thames averaging less than 9% for students below the age of 16 claiming free school meals.

Free school meals are available to children from families who are claiming other types of benefit for unemployment or low income.  In 2013 the government extended the scheme so that all children in reception, year 1 and year 2 at state primary schools, ie all children under 8, receive free meals.  From year 3 onwards families must register and make a claim.

Entitlement to free school meals is commonly used as an indicator for children living in poverty. But many who are entitled to the benefit do not claim, a reluctance sometimes attached to social stigma. In London this year 215,000 children are judged to be eligible but only 180,000 are receiving free meals.

Source data

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Fight for reception gets tougher as more kids swell primary school demand

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Photo: Oleg Doroshin ┃Shutterstock.com

The contest for a place in a favoured primary school is an annual ritual causing anxiety to parents all over London.   Many schools in neighbourhoods with lots of children have tiny catchment areas of just a few hundred metres radius due to the pressure on reception places.

The bad news is that the situation is going to get worse before its get better. Parents seeking a place in 2016/17 will face the stiffest competition yet, due to simple demographics.

Between 2001/02 and 2011/12 the number of births went up by 28%, an extra 30,000 children. The birth rate peaked in 2011/12 and those children are destined to become the class of 2016/17.

The birth rate has fallen in the past 2 years but forecasting by the GLA Intelligence Unit shows that the 677,000 children attending state primaries in this school year will climb by 60,000 over the coming decade.

The increase in demand for primary school places is focused on East London boroughs that coincide with areas of housing development.

Tower Hamlets is projected to be the borough with the highest growth in demand, rising by nearly 7,000. More than 4,000 extra places are needed in Havering and Newham, nearly that amount in Barking and Dagenham, and 3,500 in Redbridge.

Primary school demand

Kensington and Chelsea is the only borough that is forecast to see a fall in demand.

The GLA emphasises that the increase in demand does not automatically suggest a shortfall in places, as it has not factored in the planned expansion of existing schools or the building of new ones. Many schools have expanded to take on growing numbers but a further 2,000 primary classes will be needed over the next 10 years.

As the numbers begin to taper due to the falling birth rate of the past couple of years the problem will filter through to the secondary schools and, as reported by Urbs, that could mean even greater challenges for education in London.

Source data

See also

105,000 extra secondary pupils pose huge challenge for capital’s schools

How the obesity rate doubled for the class of 2007

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