Report of Strategic Director, Housing Environment and Healthy Communities
Committee received a presentation around the current position on the number of children and young people eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) and the impact of Covid on these figures.
Currently there are over 7,200 children eligible for FSM in Gateshead, however this may not be accurate as there are a number of families who do not claim but are still eligible. These children come from 4,150 households. It was reported that there has been a 4.3% increase in FSM take up since this time last year.
A map was provided which showed where the FSM eligible families live, this shows a number of locations with higher density of FSM entitlement. This map is used to plan and target activities.
Committee was advised that Pupil Premium funding is related to FSM entitlement and that, although loss of Pupil Premium is high, it cannot be accurately calculated. FSM related Pupil Premium brings £1345 per primary school child and £955 per secondary child per year. Therefore it is important that the uptake of FSM is widely encouraged.
It was reported that during the pandemic the Council supported FSM eligible families by providing 1,400 weekly packed lunches throughout October half term. It also provided 7,048 pre-loaded Mastercard’s over Christmas with a credit balance of either £75 or £100. This was provided through the benefits team at a cost of £561k. In addition, shopping vouchers worth £435k were provided to FSM eligible families during the Easter and May half term holidays. It was reported that the Council has used its allocation of the Government’s Winter Grant and the Covid Local Support Grant to fund several VCS partners to provide even more food support across all ward areas of Gateshead.
Committee was advised that, following the 2020 success of the DfE funded Holidays Activities and Food (HAF) Programme, the Council was successful in obtaining substantial funding to offer HAF programmes across the three main school holiday periods of Easter, Summer and Christmas. The Council delivered a programme of activities and food to 2,600 children in 8 days over Easter. In addition, a successful ‘Cook n Eat’ programme was delivered to 1,750 families, where a box of fresh ingredients providing five meals for four people were delivered to doorsteps.
It was reported that this summer’s HAF programme will be the biggest yet with over 20,000 places available. This will be delivered by the Council, Schools and VCSE partners and is open to all in order to avoid any stigma. The programme will include a wide range of activities, exercises and games. Using the map data to target levels with high FSM has meant that no child has to travel more than 2 miles to access free HAF provision.
In terms of the school meals service it was reported that the service is provided to 71 schools across Gateshead; 68 primaries and 3 secondary’s, and also one contract in County Durham. It was reported that 67% of all primary school pupils took a school meal each day in 2019/20. The service has continues to be nationally recognised as a leading Schools Meals provider.
In relation to percentage take up of primary free meals, this has dropped to below pre-pandemic figures. It is thought that the drop in uptake is due to Covid as lunchtime is no longer a pleasurable experience as schools are making lots of compromises to get through lunchtime safely. The implications of this are that less children are taking a nutritious school meal which will impact on health and wellbeing. In addition this has led to a significant loss of revenue, with that there has been increased labour costs to cover sickness and extended lunchtimes. Local suppliers and the private sector are also struggling and this is a national issue.
Therefore, the next steps planned are to re-launch the service in September with a new menu. This will be promoted through various sources, for example parent engagement, using HAF to raise awareness and proactively work to increase uptake.
It was queried whether there has been any lobbying around automatic registration of FSM or whether there would be GDPR restraints. It was agreed that the Data Protection Officer of the Council would look at this issue again.
The Committee thanked the service for all the hard work that has been undertaken.
RESOLVED - That the comments of the Committee on the information
provided be noted.