The school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,557 schools and organisations benefitting 227,000 children. The objective of the programme is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to lack of good quality food, to take full advantage of the education provided to them. The programme is an important component of policies to encourage school attendance and extra educational achievement. The programme is operated through the Urban School Meals Scheme and the School Meals Local Projects Scheme. The Urban School Meals Scheme is a statutory scheme that is operated in conjunction with Local Authorities and is available to primary school children. My department jointly funds the food costs on 50/50 basis with the Local Authorities who are responsible for the administration and operation of the scheme. The School Meals Local Projects Scheme is an administrative scheme which is operated directly by my department and provides funding to primary and secondary schools, local groups, voluntary organisations and community-based not-for-profit preschools which operate their own school meals projects. In recent years entry to the school meals programme has been confined to DEIS schools in addition to schools identified by Department of Education and Skills as having levels of concentrated disadvantage that would benefit from access to the programme. Prior to the introduction of DEIS in 2005, all schools and organisations that were part of one of a number of Department of Education and Skills’ initiatives for disadvantaged schools were eligible to participate in the programme, which included Breaking the Cycle, Giving Children an Even Break, the Disadvantaged Area Scheme, Home School Community Liaison and the School Completion Programme. These schools and organisations have continued to remain in the programme. Participation in the scheme is entirely voluntary with the onus being on the individual eligible schools to make an application. Schools and organisations must reapply for funding in advance of each school year and are required to submit detailed records at the end of the school year. Funding is based on a rate of payment per meal, per child, per day. The maximum rates of payment are:
- Breakfast/snack club €0.60;
- Cold Lunch €1.40;
- Dinner €1.90; and
- Hot School Meal €2.90.
Applications are currently being accepted from schools for the 2020/2021 academic year. To date 1,303 applications have been received, of which 1,133 are awarded, 53 are pending and 117 are awaiting further information from schools in order to finalise the application. Generally, the school meals programme does not provide funding to cover school holidays or for days when the school is closed. However, when schools closed in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic following consultation with the Department of Education and Skills, and with the support of education management bodies, it was agreed that funding under the school meals programme could be used to support participating schools that identify pupils who are unlikely to receive nutritious food when schools were closed. Funding was also extended to cover the summer period to ensure these children would continue to be provided with food. Schools were not permitted to use vouchers and the majority of schools opted to provide a weekly or fortnightly food parcel. The schools could supply food parcels to the value of the funding already allocated per child to the school. For example, a child receiving the breakfast at 60c per day and the cold lunch at €1.40 per day provided the school funding of €10 per week for a food parcel. As part of Budget 2019, funding was provided for a pilot scheme from September 2019, providing hot school meals in primary schools at a cost of €1m for 2019 and €2.5m in 2020. The pilot involved 37 schools benefitting 6,744 students for the 2019/2020 academic year. Hot meals are paid at the rate of €2.90 per child per day. Budget 2020 provided an additional €4 million in funding to extend the hot meals for children currently receiving the cold lunch option, which would allow my department to extend the hot meals to an additional 35,000 children. A decision was made to delay the extension of the hot meals to January 2021 because of the closure of schools due to the Covid-19 Pandemic from 13 March 2020. In budget 2021, I have provided an additional €5.5m for this extension from January 2021 to 35,000 primary school children currently receiving the cold lunch option. Officials from my department are currently engaging with schools in relation to this measure. I hope this clarifies the matter.