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Beating the "stigma" of free school meals
SOME parents are scared to apply for free school meals for their children because they fear the “stigma” attached to them, claims a top education official.
Linda Vijeh, chairman of the Somerset Schools Forum, says dozens of families across Taunton, Wellington and West Somerset are missing out on free dinners because they’re ashamed or they didn’t know they were eligible for them.
Almost 1,500 schoolchildren at 47 schools within a five-mile radius of Taunton are eligible to benefit from free school meals from the Government, but this week the county council admitted it did not know how many were taking up the offer.
The meals were introduced to help families who rely on benefits, and Mrs Vijeh said the forum is trying to combat the misconception that only children from poor backgrounds receive them.
She told the County Gazette: “I think people feel embarrassed to say they receive free school meals and for a lot of people it’s a matter of pride – some people don’t want to take off the Government.
“We know there are a lot of families who are entitled to the meals, but won’t take them up, and there’s a perception at school that only poor people eat them.
“There’s a fear among children of being bullied and people saying ‘ha ha, you’re on free school dinners’.
“We need to combat the stigma.
“People need a celebrity or somebody to come out and say they were on school dinners to show it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
A county council spokesman said though the authority knows how many families are eligible for free school meals it could not say how many took up the option.