CamdenNewJournal

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Camden pupils miss out on 200,000 free school meals a year, figures reveal

Town Hall accused of failing to feed poorest children in the borough

19 July, 2018 — By Richard Osley

Conservative councillor Oliver Cooper

THE Town Hall has been accused of failing to feed Camden’s poorest children after being named in shock figures as the worst-performing council in the country for delivering free school meals.

Government findings revealed nearly half-a-million pounds of school lunches over a year had been “wasted”, a term used by the Department for Education, due to a shortage of claims. Council chiefs admitted last night (Wednesday) that they were “extremely concerned” by the figures which showed Camden as the only area in England where more than 40 per cent of families entitled to free school meals were not accessing them.

Conservative councillor Oliver Cooper, the leader of the opposition in Camden, said: “Free school meals are worth almost £900 a year to a family with two children. If they’re missing out on them, that can put a huge strain on the finances of our borough’s poorest households.”

The government’s ­figures said Camden had a “waste rate” of 43 per cent, meaning children had missed out on £401,035 worth of food, equating to 200,450 school meals. The council insisted that no actual food had been wasted due to the poor take-up, and that the council was not paying for unclaimed meals, although it was unclear last night where the money set aside to pay for the school dinners would have gone.

Cllr Cooper said free school meals were vital to better health and ­academic performance. “If Camden doesn’t feed our poorest pupils properly, it’ll feed inequality instead,” he said. “The inequality in Camden’s schools is already at crisis point, with pupils from Hampstead getting, on average, almost two grades better results at GCSE than pupils from Haverstock [in Chalk Farm].”

He added: “It’s depressing that so little has been done by Camden’s administration.”

The effect of the poor take-up is said to be compounded as claims help schools to get pupil premium payments from the government.

Councillor Angela Mason

Labour’s schools chief, Councillor Angela Mason, said: “We were aware of and have been extremely concerned about these very disappointing figures, which appear to show a high number of students in our secondary schools are not consuming the free school meals they are entitled to.“We regularly remind schools and frontline council staff who work with eligible families to urge parents to claim free school meals for their children.”

She said that headteachers were being asked to explain how they administered the free school meals to try and identify reasons behind the shortfall.

“We are currently putting considerable effort into improving the take-up of this vital entitlement,” said Cllr Mason, “from ensuring the ­quality of the meals through to the administration and recording of consumption.”

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