Call to end ‘stigma’ of free school meals

July 20, 2011 3 Comments »
Call to end ‘stigma’ of free school meals

A politican who suffered childhood poverty has called for an end to  the “stigma” Cardiff children face  when claiming free school meals.

Canton councillor Ramesh Patel  said the council must urgently introduce a cashless payment system to  protect poorer schoolchildren from  discrimination.

A total of  8,659 children (22.3% of  all secondary and primary school pupils) receive free school meals in  Cardiff.But just one secondary school, Willows High in Tremorfa, has so far  introduced a cashless system.

There,  pupils are given a cashless fob to use  in the canteen.Research by Coun Patel found pupils at the city’s 20 other schools still  pay with cash for their dinners, while  pupils receiving free school meals are  either given tickets or use ID cards.

Coun Patel claims the authority’s  failure to introduce cashless schemes  in all schools meant some children  were going hungry to avoid being  seen claiming free meals.

He told the Echo how he slept rough  behind a derelict house in Riverside  for three months as a toddler after his  family emigrated to Cardiff in the  1960s.

And although he was entitled to  free meals at Fitzalan High School in  Leckwith, he would slip home at  lunchtime to avoid being seen to  claim free meals.

He said: “I know how hurtful it can  be for children going through  poverty.“My concern is that children will  often go hungry because they want to  avoid the stigma, which is more hurtful than anything else.

“When there is one group of children with tickets and the rest have  cash, kids can be very cruel – a  cashless system would help stop  that.”

Cardiff council yesterday confirmed  it planned to roll-out a “web-based  biometric till system” in all schools –  but not until September 2012.

The authority was unable to say how  much the roll-out would cost, but  council papers show the Willows High  fob system cost about £30,000.

A council spokeswoman said: “The  catering service is currently identifying a suitable specification for the  system which will involve looking at  how other local authorities have begun to address this issue.

“Once that specification has been  completed the council will look to  procure the system which will provide  schools with an efficient system for  receiving payment for schools meals  and eradicate free school meal pupil  visibility.”

National Association of Headteachers Cymru director Anna Brychan  said: “We know that the fear of stigma  of people knowing you have free  school meals is preventing some eligible  pupils from claiming the meals.

“We would very much be in favour  of anything that gets rid of that disincentive and encourage the introduction of cashless systems everywhere.”

Bill Gray, interim head of Save the  Children in Wales, said free school  meals were a “key weapon” in the  fight to close the gap in achievement  between children born into poverty  and other pupils.


How Cardiff secondary schools administer free school meals:

Bishop of Llandaff: Daily  collection of card from reception

Cantonian: Daily collection of  card from reception
Cardiff High: Issued with  ID/photocard via reception
Cathays High: Pupils queue  outside dining hall to collect ticket
Corpus Christie: Issued with  five unique coloured tickets per  week by reception
Fitzalan High: Issued with ID  photocard
Glyn Derw High: Pupils  collect ticket in dining hall
Llanedeyrn High: Pupils  collect ticket in dining hall
Llanishen High: Collect ticket  daily from reception
Llanrumney High: Collect  photocard daily from reception
Mary Immaculate: Issued  with individual card each week
Michaelston College: Issued  with photocard outside dining hall
Radyr Comprehensive: Pupils name ticked off list at till
Rumney High: Issued with ID  photocard
St Illtyd’s High: Card with  name issued by reception
St Teilo’s High: Pupils name  ticked off list
Whitchurch High: Issued with  ID card each day by reception
Willows High: Cashless fob  automatically revalued at midnight
Ysgol Plasmawr: Cards  collected any time from staff
Ysgol Glantaf: Collect card  from reception daily

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  1. Nathan Collins July 20, 2011 at 11:59 am - Reply

    Yeah, because swipe cards will stop kids from making fun of each other. Come on, Councillor Patel.

  2. Lost In London July 20, 2011 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    Councillor Patel is once again talking a load of rubbish. This is the same man who described turning Lansdowne Primary into an all Welsh School as racist. Having been a pupil at both Mountstuart Primary and Fitzalan, I can safely say there was no child that went hungry. In Mountstuart there were only three in my year who actually paid for meals, including I and we were the ones laughed at. Sorry Councillor Patel but yet again you are appearing misguided and sensationlist.

  3. Twm Owen July 20, 2011 at 10:04 pm - Reply

    Why is the council planning a 'biometric' system and have the public ever been asked if they support this?
    While I agree cashless systems must be introduced a biometric system, which would rely on taking the fingerprints of school children, must also be ruled out. It is also likely to fail in practice as well as once parents/young people realise its draconian nature it is unlikely to win support and children will still go without the meals they are entitled to.
    Schools are ill equipped to deal with the complicated legal requirements of keeping/recording such sensitive personal information which is also likely to prove very expensive. Parents should ask themselves whether they would be comfortable knowing their personal, private information had been handed over to the state or a private company from their earliest years.
    Do you also trust Cardiff Council to keep such information secure on a 'web based' system? Would criminals be keen to access a pool of fingerprint information?
    Why does the school/council need the biometric details anyone? Surely all a payment card needs to record is whether the meal has been claimed that day?
    Most people in the UK have never had their mobile phone hacked but forcing children (possibly from age 3 or 4 on their first day of primary school) to hand over their biometric details is a gross invasion of privacy.

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