13 June 2012
The Rt Hon David Blunkett MP today sponsored a Commons Debate highlighting the difficulties faced by the 100,000 college students missing out on a free lunch – unlike their counterparts in school.
Students in English colleges aged 16 to 18-years-old from disadvantaged backgrounds struggle to afford lunch due to an unfair funding rule.
In response to the Commons Debate, Martin Doel, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “I welcome the fact that this debate has highlighted that there is cross-party consensus on this issue and am thankful for the support shown by MPs to their local colleges, students and to the further education sector as a whole.
“The fact that this is not a new funding anomaly does not mean that it’s not something that should be addressed by the Government at the earliest opportunity; it is not enough to keep it under review. A system which funds 16 to 18-year-olds from disadvantaged families for free school meals in any educational institution except sixth form colleges and further education colleges is blatantly unfair.
“These students and their families are among the most vulnerable in our society – not helping them just because they have chosen to continue their education in a college flies in the face of the Government’s oft-professed commitment to social mobility and is unjustifiable. Family budgets are under severe strain with transport costs rising and food prices up by 4. 3%. The situation for our disadvantaged students has been exacerbated by the ending of the Education Maintenance Allowance.
“Colleges are doing their best to ensure the £180million bursary scheme, which replaced the £560million EMA, is targeted at students most in need, but there is a limit to what they can do with a much smaller pot of money. Many are having to dip into their own rapidly dwindling reserves in order to provide free breakfasts or lunches, or providing lunch vouchers and food banks, but at a time when the further education sector itself is facing significant funding cuts, this is not sustainable in the long run.
“One London college has spent more than £96,000 providing free lunches, which equates to 45% of their bursary budget. While the college is keen to support its students it would like to be able to use the bursary to support them in other ways, including books, study resources, work experience and educational visits. This raises the question of why school pupils in the same age group will be in receipt of bursary funding and free school meals.”
“AoC estimates* that removing this inequality and extending the provision of free lunches to eligible college students will cost the Department for Education £38million out of their £56billion budget – this is equivalent to 1p in every £14 spent - and we consider this a reasonable price to pay for equality for these students. We will continue to make the case for parity of funding in order to get these young people the support they need to stay in education.”
The Association of Colleges, its member colleges, students and MPs from across the country are calling on the Government to extend free meals to all 16 to 18-year-olds from a disadvantaged background. Currently 16 to 18-year-old from a disadvantaged background studying in a maintained school sixth form, free school, University Technical College or an academy, is provided with a free school meal; if the same student chooses to study at a college they lose that entitlement.
Note - *Estimated cost of extending this provision: £38 million - based on: 103,000 16 to 18-year-olds in 2009/10 who claimed free school meals at age 15, with the average cost of a lunch estimated at £1.95 and assuming the average student is at college for 190 days each year. Please note this estimate does not include administration and capital costs.