No such thing as a free lunch

Blackpool and the Fylde College's Further Education president Matthew Chandler.
Blackpool and the Fylde College's Further Education president Matthew Chandler.
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STUDENTS have welcomed a campaign for free lunches for thousands of the country’s poorest teenagers.

The Association of Colleges, is leading the No Free Lunch? campaign, after it revealed more than 100,000 students are missing out each year because of a funding anomaly.

The disparity means 16 to 18 year olds who would be offered free school meals if they were studying at a school sixth form miss out if they go to college.

Now college leaders across the country have launched a campaign to end the practice, which they say is “unfair and discriminatory”.

They are calling for all disadvantaged teenagers to be offered free meals, regardless of where they study.

And Matthew Chandler, further education student president at Blackpool and The Fylde College, has welcomed the campaign.

He told The Gazette: “I’m really pleased this issue has been highlighted.

“Figures show there are far more students in further education who meet the criteria for free school meals than there are in sixth forms.

“People should not be penalised because of where they study.

“I know many students bring food from home because they can’t afford to eat at college.

“Since we lost the Education Maintenance Allowance, many students do struggle with the costs of transport and books so paying for food is another worry.”

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The Education Maintenance Allowance gave some students up to £30 a week towards their studies but was scrapped last year.

The subject was debated in Parliament last week by former education secretary David Blunkett.

He said: “This flagrant disparity means students across the country, are missing meals because of the educational path they have taken.

“There are three times as many students eligible for free lunches in college than school sixth forms.

“For these students to be denied free meals because they have chosen further education is inherently unfair.

“It is not only a bar to social mobility but also an inequality and unfairness that could mean teenagers going hungry.”

The Department for Education said it recognises the concern caused by the anomaly and is looking into the situation.

Catherine Hill, vice principal for curriculum and standards at the college, said: “We’re pleased to see this issue being debated at Westminster.

“Given the proportion of underprivileged areas in our catchments, extending free meals to those from a disadvantaged background would help a large number of our students.”

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