MSP raises concerns over free school meals stigma

A Highlands and Islands MSP said she is worried that pupils are being stigmatised at the Anderson High School for their free school meals.

Rhoda Grant was left “troubled” after concerns were raised with her that the school’s payment system meant pupils who receive free school meals were being singled out by handing over a card instead.

The Labour MSP was contacted by a concerned constituent who feared that some pupils were even refusing to have lunch because of the stigma.

All schools in Shetland use the ParentPay system, where parents pre-pay the cost of a meal and children collect it, apart from the Anderson.

The lack of ParentPay at the school has been a longstanding issue for Lerwick Community Council and was raised again at its Monday meeting.

Ms Grant wrote to SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison regarding the issue.

The MSP said Mrs Sandison accepted that the system was “not perfect” but it was “working well as a temporary solution” until a cashless system could be brought in.

Pupils eligible for free school meals do have a card they have to show but “they rarely need to show the card as the catering staff get to know them very quickly”, according to Mrs Sandison.

The council has said a procurement exercise for a cashless system may take months and a project team would have to be set up.

ParentPay would “add considerable workload to the school’s admin team”, said Mrs Sandison, and would probably result in the need to recruit further staff.

Mrs Grant said: “I am troubled to find out that those pupils receiving free school meals are required to have to collect their meal by handing over a card.

“There’s no shame in having an entitlement to school meals but when you’re young you just want to be the same as everyone else.

“And I know there are concerns, which I share, that this is a stigma which may be preventing some young people from having their meal.”


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