By Luke, Year 10 pupil at Park View School, Member of Tyne & Wear Citizens
I started participating in this campaign in November 2017, when one of my teachers approached me asking if I wanted to speak at the Tyne & Wear Citizens assembly about my experience of Free School Meals.
My teacher explained that many pupils on Free School Meals noticed that the way the meals system works further disadvantages them in some ways, rather than bridging the gap between their more privileged peers, because they’re unable to keep their lunch change.
Immediately, I accepted and wanted to get involved in the campaign. Only two months prior to this I relied on Free School Meals myself and I was aware of exactly what my teacher was talking about. In my experience, students always have money left over from their allocated amount (it’s usually around 10p) and, instead of letting the students keep it, the money is being taken by the school meal providers to line their pockets. Meal providers are either schools, Local Authorities or private providers. What made me most angry and eager to get involved in this campaign was the fact that private providers are often multi-million-pound corporations.
For as long as I can remember, I have felt passionate about social and economic equality for all. Especially so at school; every child, regardless of their background, should be on a level playing field and have a chance to thrive at school. For me, getting involved in this campaign and sharing my own experience has been a gateway into doing what I’ve always felt passionate about: fighting for the greater good. Getting involved in this campaign has allowed me to be a voice for all 750,00 secondary school pupils on Free School Meals across the country.
I’m sure that every school pupil, whether entitled to Free School Meals or not, would do the same thing. It is simply not right that so many children, many of whom are already really struggling to get food at home, are having their money essentially stolen from them by school meals providers. Citizens UK has been researching the impact of this and the 10ps really add up – pupils on free school meals in secondary schools alone are losing around £65 million a year of money they desperately need.
I feel hopefully that together we can make a difference. Because of my schools work so far alongside Tyne and Wear Citizens, three schools have already been able to enact our campaign asks and give the money back to their pupils. All three of those schools spent less than £250 changing their IT system and they’ve already managed to give almost £20,000 back to their most disadvantaged students.
With the official launch of the campaign this week. I really hope this information spreads and more schools change their Free School Meals system. As part of this week’s launch, I wrote the script for a video that I and other pupils at my school created explaining what the issue is and what can be done about it. I hope the video inspires other pupils across the country to get involved in the campaign and ask their school to take a look into its catering practices. You can watch the video here.