Free school meals

Free School Meals (FSM) is the provision of a healthy school meal to disadvantaged pupils, as part of the Education Act 1996.

Healthy, free meals at school help enable all children to have the same opportunities to learn and thrive, no matter where they grow up. The impact has been shown to last well into adulthood, with evidence linking FSM to improved educational attainment and a host of social, financial, and health benefits.

It also enables those eligible children and families to access many other benefits, such as access to holiday activities and also the pupil premium funding for schools, below.

What are the benefits of Free School Meals?

A helping hand amidst rising living costs SHOW

Improving access to education SHOW

Providing essential nutrients for growth and development SHOW

Promoting healthy eating habits early on SHOW

Children may be entitled to receive these at school if they are of compulsory school age and applicants meet the below criteria.

How to apply for free school meals

If your child is of compulsory school age, we recommend you:

Parents/guardians should see each relevant guidance section below before applying.

Children below compulsory school age within full-time education may be able to secure additional education provider funding, we recommend discussing this with your provider.

Free meals may also be available to post-16 pupils following similar criteria as below, to apply please contact the institution directly.

Parents/guardians, and in some instances the child themselves, can become FSM eligible by meeting the criteria in both (A) and (B) sections as follows:

A) There must be a valid FSM application associated with the receiving child

This can either be completed by the applicant (parent/guardian/child) or by the child’s school on their behalf. We recommend schools have a privacy policy that supports this.

B) The applicant (parent/guardian/child) meets any of the following criteria

1 Is in receipt of one or more eligible benefits SHOW

2 Is covered by Transition Protection following the Universal Credit rollout from 1 April 2018 SHOW

3 Is from an identified family group with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) SHOW

Specific guidance

Pupils in Reception, Year 1, and Year 2 SHOW

Free meals in further education (FE) funded institutions SHOW

Transitional protection SHOW

Further guidance

Pupil premium

Established in 2011, the pupil premium is an annual governmental contribution to schools aiming to enhance the academic performance of underprivileged students. Families receiving specific benefits often entitle their children to a financial allocation aimed at enhancing their educational experience.

Children eligible for the pupil premium often encounter obstacles to meeting their potential. The primary aim of the pupil premium is to directly benefit these students, reducing the achievement gap.

Primary schools receive pupil premium funding for various categories of pupils, including those currently or previously entitled to FSM, children in care, and children from service families. Schools determine how to allocate their pupil premium funds, aiming to best serve the needs of their eligible students.

Common uses of the pupil premium include:

  • Providing additional classroom support
  • Employing extra teaching assistants
  • Organising extra learning times
  • Offering extracurricular activities
  • Investing in resources to improve outcomes

Schools must show how they are spending the pupil premium and how that is improving the outcomes for these pupils.

All children qualifying for FSM due to family circumstances automatically qualify for the pupil premium. If you feel you may qualify, speak to your child’s school.

Additionally, students who previously qualified for FSM within the last six years continue to receive pupil premium benefits. Schools and the local authority are responsible for identifying eligible students. In the first instance, you should speak to your child’s school, but across the year, Southampton City Council may contact those families who may be eligible. If in doubt, please ask or use the eligibility checker.

Parents are encouraged to inform the school if their child is eligible for FSM or has been in the past. This information enables schools to claim pupil premium funding to support the educational needs of disadvantaged students.

Healthy packed lunches

Schools play a crucial role in promoting the health and well-being of children. Healthy eating habits are established early in life, and proper nutrition during childhood can prevent various health issues in the short and long term.

Concerns are rising about children consuming excessive fat, sugar, and salt, while lacking fibre, fruits, and vegetables. School meals must comply with the Government School Food Standards introduced in 2015 to ensure nutritious options for children. These standards include:

  • Daily inclusion of one or more portions of vegetables
  • Emphasis on wholegrain foods instead of refined carbohydrates
  • Limiting pastry products to two portions per week
  • Daily inclusion of one or more portions of fruit
  • Availability of drinking water

Unfortunately, there are no equivalent standards for packed lunches, and a recent survey revealed that very few packed lunches meet the School Food Standards. Most packed lunches contain unhealthy snacks like chocolate and sweets, sugary drinks, and high-fat, high-salt savoury snacks.

Packed lunches can contribute significantly to a child's weekly food intake, so it is essential to encourage healthy choices for children who bring their lunches. This guidance aims to assist parents in preparing nutritious packed lunches to support their child's well-being.

We have put together a downloadable guidance document for parents and guardians to help offer some advice on what some healthy choices could be.