Parentkind statement on parental eligibility for Free School Meals


In recent years, Parentkind has reached out to parents to understand their views on the cost of sending a child to school. Parents have been clear, and their responses to Parentkind have shown that concern over rising costs particularly impacts upon parents of children eligible to receive free school meals. The current cost of living crisis is already having an impact, and this financial squeeze is likely to be felt most by those who just miss out on eligibility for Free School Meals by the current criteria.

Previously, Parentkind found that while the costs of sending children to school are unsurprisingly more noticeable and concerning among lower-income parents, this group in 2021 was likelier to view the expense as acceptable, which may in part be explained by the financial relief of their child having access to Free School Meals as well as school uniform grants. Given that the cost of living spike is negatively impacting those on the smallest budgets the most, this year’s research results may see a change in attitude. It is anticipated that more parents eligible for Free School Meals will find that the day-to-day costs of putting food on the table and paying the bills tips the additional costs of sending a child to school into becoming more of a burden and a worry.

Free school meals: what the research says

Parentkind’s Annual Parent Survey 2021 found that:

  • Out of those parents who choose to donate, parents eligible for Free School Meals donated an average of £15.98 per month to the school fund, compared to an average of £11.62 across all parents.
  • More parents eligible for Free School Meals agreed that the cost of sending children to school is increasing (80% compared to 73% of all parents) and significantly higher levels of strong agreement (44% compared with 27%). 
  • Free School Meal-eligible parents are also more likely to agree that they are concerned about the cost (65% compared with 45% of ineligible parents) and more than twice as likely to strongly agree (35% compared with 14%).
  • Almost three quarters of all parents (73%) continue to believe the cost of sending children to school is increasing, with almost a third (30%) strongly agreeing. 
  • Almost half (49%) agree that they are concerned about the cost, with a fifth (19%) strongly agreeing.
    Half (49%) agree that the cost of sending children to school these days is acceptable, with 17% strongly agreeing, almost a third (31%) neutral and 18% disagreeing.

There are also implications for families with more children, who are likelier than those with fewer children to be concerned specifically about costs involved with uniforms and school trips.

Parentkind’s CEO John Jolly said: 

"Our Parent Voice Report 2021 starkly demonstrates the double whammy of increasing financial pressures on both families and schools. The spiraling cost of living on top of the increasing cost of schooling is having a worrying impact on many parents’ finances.  Parents show great generosity in supporting their child’s school with 38% of them in 2021 donating to the school fund, the highest level we have seen in 6 years. Parents with a child eligible for Free School Meals are not only likelier to be asked to donate to the school fund but are also likelier to do so as a result and contribute more, despite two thirds of those parents saying they are concerned about the cost of sending their children to school.

"We urge policymakers to listen to what parents are saying as well as the front-line evidence of teaching professionals. They have expressed concerns about how the cost of living crisis is negatively impacting upon children’s education, and say that more children who need support are missing out on free school meals, and some of those receiving the meals have seen the quality, quantity and nutritional value decrease. The knock-on effect on children all over the country will be in experiencing concentration levels diminish in the classroom through hunger. Inevitably, that leads to pupils falling behind in their learning and ultimately having outcomes that fail to reflect their full potential. The consequences of missed educational opportunities can last a lifetime, and that harm should never occur as a result of a need for a decent meal."


Parent Voice Report 2021

Fieldwork for Parentkind’s Annual Parent Survey is conducted online by Dynata. Respondents were recruited through their UK panel as in previous years, received a small incentive for their participation, and took part in the survey from 3rd June to 19th July 2021. The sample is made up is made up of 3,751 parents from England (3,000), Northern Ireland (251) and Wales (500) who have at least one child aged 4-18 attending state school. In 2021 the entire sample was more than doubled from a previous count of 1500 parents from England (1,200), Northern Ireland (100) and Wales (200), while retaining the same proportional balance between nations, in order to ensure even more robust samples in Northern Ireland and Wales. The sample is representative of the parent population by gender, age and social grade and is achieved through interlocking quotas. Sub-samples in Wales and Northern Ireland are boosted each year to achieve a large enough base of respondents to compare findings across regions.


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