Pupils at independent schools across the north will be eligible to receive free school meals for the first time this year.
The extension of entitlement will ensure pupils at 15 local independent schools can avail of the support alongside pupils at grant-aided schools.
Announcing the move, Education Minister, John O’Dowd said:
“The provision of free school meals plays a key role in raising educational standards. Not only does it provide the health benefits of a nutritious meal during the school day, supporting children’s growth and development; it also aids learning in the classroom and targets support to those who most need it – low income households.
“That is why, since I took up post as Education Minister, I have allocated additional money for the provision of free school meals. In the final year of Direct Rule, 27,800 children locally were eligible for free school meals. By last year that figure stood at almost 78,000. Furthermore, I recently announced an extension to the criteria that will see an estimated 15,000 additional children receive this assistance from next year.
“Indeed, in 2013/14 I have allocated almost £40million to provide free school meals to pupils from low income households.
“Today’s announcement takes this support further meaning that, for the first time, pupils at independent schools will be able to receive free school meals.”
There are 15 independent schools across the north which, last year, accommodated almost 700 children. The schools, which educate pupils from two years old to 18, do not receive any funding from the Department.
The Minister continued: “I have written to each independent school making them aware of my decision and I have instructed the Education and Library Boards to put the necessary arrangements in place to ensure this support is provided as soon as possible.”
It is anticipated that pupils at these schools will begin receiving free school meals in the coming weeks. Parents who think they may be eligible should contact their local Education and Library Board as soon as possible for further information and an application form.