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Make free meals stigma-free, schools urged

Schools are to be given guidance on how to set up stigma-free meals systems for pupils as part of a drive to increase take-up.

The Welsh Government is keen to promote free school meals and protect the identity of those entitled to them, amid fears that some of the poorest pupils are going hungry.

Last year's school census showed that 26 per cent of those eligible for free school meals - some 21,000 pupils - did not take them up.

A recent report by a cross-party Assembly committee said pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds often go without food rather than risk bullying from their peers.

In a debate in the Senedd last week, Labour AM Joyce Watson urged the Government to encourage schools and local authorities to look into cashless alternatives such as swipe cards or biometric systems.

However, going cashless comes at a price. For secondaries, depending on the type of system and supplier, it can cost between #163;15,000 and #163;30,000 to install, with maintenance costs of around #163;2,000 a year.

Education minister Leighton Andrews, who revealed that he was entitled to free meals as a secondary pupil, said that although around 40 per cent of secondary schools have a cashless system, it does not always result in higher take-up.

Mr Andrews said ensuring pupils have adequate and healthy nutrition would contribute to his three priorities of combating illiteracy, innumeracy and disadvantage.

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