Education / Disappointment as free school meal report delayed until February

Shetland Central councillor Moraig Lyall. Photo: Shetland News

A COUNCILLOR says she is disappointed that a report on adjusting free school meals eligibility criteria will now only come to the chamber in February.

Moraig Lyall, who represents Shetland Central, said a “good chunk” of the winter – a time when many will see their heating bills rise – will have passed by then.

Meanwhile councillor Bryan Peterson issued a reminder that while a motion for universal free school meals for all pupils was recently rejected, moves are still underway to change the eligibility criteria.

This followed a decision made at a meeting of the council’s education and families committee last month, prior to Ian Scott’s motion.

The committee had been presented with a number of possible options regarding free school meal provision.

Members favoured the idea of increasing school clothing grants by 50 per cent while also aligning payment for free school to the clothing grant criteria.

Councillors also asked for officers to investigate the ceiling appropriate to the grant criteria.


A follow-up report on this was expected to be brought to councillors in December, but this has not been possible.

Children services director Helen Budge told a meeting of the education and families committee on Monday that officers were keen for the report to include the most up to date information possible.

Responding to Lyall regarding the missed commitment, she said: “It disappoints me as much as it disappoints you.”

Budge reiterated though that any families found to be in a vulnerable position will be offered help as soon as possible this winter.

Peterson, meanwhile, said he was disappointed that the council’s position on extending free school meal provision was seen by some as a “binary” process.

He sought to issue a public reminder of sorts that the decision from the education and families committee to look at free meals criteria and the clothing grant was still in the offing.

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Free school meal and school clothing grant entitlement is currently set nationally, but it can be adjusted to respond to local circumstances.

If the free school meal eligibility criteria was set as the same as the clothing grant, around 130 more families in Shetland would be able to access free dinner entitlement.

SIC depute convener Bryan Peterson. Photo: SIC

“It’s not that the council isn’t going to be looking at free school dinners, it’s just the most appropriate way to deliver it given the constraints,” Peterson said.

At the moment all pupils in Scotland up to and including primary five receive free meals, while P6 and P7 are in line to be included once the delayed national roll-out gets back on track.

In secondaries families on low incomes can receive free school meals for their child.


Peterson added that universal free school meals for all Shetland pupils would come with not only financial pressures but challenges with staffing and logistics.

He said the issue “deserves more nuanced discussions”.

Members on the committee were told that the follow-up report on free school meals could potentially be heard in an earlier special meeting, if it was ready in time.

Committee chairman Davie Sandison said: “l’ll work with the director and others to make sure that we can get progress on this area as soon as possible.”

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