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Government reminds schools to provide free meal for disabled pupils

two young girls eating a school dinner

Schools across the UK have been reminded they need to make “reasonable adjustments” so disabled students are eligible for free meals.

A number of parents have raised concerns after their children were denied free food because they were too disabled to attend state schools.

If a child is in “education other than at school” they receive funding by their local authority, but a number of children who fall into the category are not being offered complimentary meals.

Last November the Department for Education lawyers warned it “may be a breach” of the European Convention on Human Rights” if children receiving state provided education but not in schools “are not provided with meals where such meals can be provided and consumed in conjunction with receiving the education”.

This week the DfE updated their guidelines setting out an expectation that councils “consider making equivalent food provision” available to children in out-of-school provision, failure to comply may lead to legal action.

Their guidelines state the education system must meet two criteria.

The first stipulates they would meet the benefits-related criteria if children were in a state school.

Criteria two is if the meals would be provided “in conjunction with education and would, in line with the aim of free school meal provision, be for the purpose of enabling the child to benefit fully from the education being provided”.

“Once this consideration has been made, local authorities should then assess the individual circumstances of the child to decide whether and how such provision can be made.”

The DfE has also reminded schools they need to make reasonable adjustments for disabled children on their rolls stating there may be “specific instances where the individual needs of pupils on roll at a school restrict them from accessing meals”.

For example, if a pupil has a disability, schools must make reasonable adjustments to prevent them “being put at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with pupils who are not disabled”

The Dfe states schools are “best placed to determine the exact nature of a reasonable adjustment in relation to food provision, taking into account the individual circumstances of the child and their family, as well as schools’ obligations under the School Food Standards”.

Included in the updated guidance plan are two examples which teachers may find themselves in.

One charts a child with autism which can lead to “sensory processing difficulties leading to a restricted diet”.

“As a result, the child is unable to access free school meals which comply with the relevant food standards.”

The second is a child with a food disorder who will “only eat a particular type of sandwich”.

In this case the school can offer a “reasonable adjustment would be to provide the particular type of sandwich that the child eats on a daily basis so that the child doesn’t go hungry”.

The updated guidelines have been welcomed by Contact charity.

Anna Bird, chief executive of Contact, said it was a “question of fairness and today the scales have tipped to a more equal position.

“The guidance makes clear that schools do have a duty to provide an alternative to disabled children who can’t access their free school meal in the regular way.”

[ Contact charity estimates more than 100,000 disabled children miss out on their free school meal entitlement. ]

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