The school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,506 schools and organisations benefitting 230,000 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.
A budget of €65.1 million has been provided for the scheme in 2021.
The Programme provides funding towards food services for disadvantaged school children through two schemes: The urban school meals scheme and the school meals (local projects) scheme. The Urban School Meals Scheme for primary schools is operated and administered by local authorities and is part-financed by my department. 44,095 students in 301 primary schools benefit from the Urban School Meals Scheme. 188 of these schools also benefit from the local projects scheme.
The school meals (local projects) scheme provides funding towards the provision of food to schools and organisations. 214,574 students in 1,393 schools and organisations benefit from the school meals (local projects) scheme. Funding under the school meals (local projects) scheme can be provided for breakfast, snack, lunch, dinner, hot meals and afterschool clubs and is based on a maximum rate per child per day, depending on the type of meal being provided e.g. €1.40 per child per day where a cold lunch club is being provided, €1.90 per child per day where a dinner club is being provided and €2.90 per child per day where a Hot Meal club is being provided. Dinner clubs provide a hot meal, but are different from the Hot Meals clubs, in that they tend to be provided by schools with onsite cooking facilities whereas food for Hot Meals clubs is cooked offsite and either delivered hot or reheated in the school.
In recent years entry to the School Meals Scheme has been confined to DEIS schools in addition to schools identified as having levels of concentrated disadvantage that would benefit from access to the School Meals 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 scheme since the introduction of DEIS in 2005 but their level of funding has been capped at the same rate year on year to allow for the concentration of the scheme on DEIS schools.
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 and was aimed primarily at schools with no onsite cooking facilities.
In Budget 2021, I announced that an additional €5.5m would be provided to extend the provision of hot school meals to an additional 35,000 primary school children, currently receiving the cold lunch option. My Department issued invitations for expressions of interest to 705 primary schools in November 2020. A total of 281 expressions of interest were received in respect of 52,148 children.
The 35,000 places were allocated to each local authority area based on the number of children applied by local authority as a percentage of the total number. A minimum of one school for each Local Authority area was selected.
As a result of this process, 189 of the 281 schools that submitted an expression of interest were selected.
Participation in the scheme is entirely voluntary. 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. Applications are accepted from individual schools and organisations as well as organisations such as School Completion Programmes who apply for multiple schools. The application process for 2021/2022 will open at the end of the current school year.
There were 1,350 applications for funding for the 2020/2021 academic year, in respect of 1,398 schools and organisations. Of the 1,350 applications; 1,336 are awarded, 4 are pending further information from schools and 10 have been disallowed because they were from an organisation or school other than a DEIS school.
In general schools apply for more than one food club. 281 dinner clubs and 947 lunch clubs were applied for in the 2020/2021 academic year.
276 Dinner clubs have been awarded, 1 is pending further information from the schools and 4 have been disallowed.
933 lunch clubs have been awarded, 3 are pending further information from schools and 11 have been disallowed.
Clubs are disallowed where funding for that club in addition to other clubs being applied for would bring the level of funding over the maximum amount available.
I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.