ONE in five St Helens school pupils are now eligible for free school meals as scores of families struggle to make ends meet.
It was revealed this week that 3,301 of the borough’s primary school children and 1,890 secondary school youngsters are eligible for free lunchtime meals - which equates to 21 per cent of all local school pupils.
Typically, children are deemed eligible for free school meals if their parents are on low salaries or are in receipt of benefits such as income support, job seeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance and child tax credit.
Since January, flagship secondary school Cowley International College has even started serving up free breakfasts for students - an offer which is currently being taken up by about one in six pupils.
A school spokeswoman said: “In most homes, mornings are very busy and time for breakfast can be neglected. Many Cowley students have an earlier than normal start to the day due to the distance travelled from home to college necessitating a bus journey.
“By providing breakfast - the most important meal of the day - we can be confident that our students are well prepared for the day’s learning ahead. Cowley is also fully aware that family budgets are stretched and we aim to support learning in anyway we can.”
In England, more than 1.2 million pupils are known to be eligible for free school meals, but the Department for Education is currently considering changing the eligibility criteria.
Surprisingly, the local figure has dropped slightly compared to last year, when 22 per cent of St Helens pupils met the free school meal criteria.
However, the TUC estimates that as many as four million UK children are now living in poverty.
All food in schools must also meet high nutritional standards so that children have healthy, balanced diets.
There must be high-quality meat, poultry or oily fish and at least two portions of fruit and vegetables with every meal.
There can’t be fizzy drinks, crisps, chocolate or sweets in school meals and schools cannot serve up more than two portions of deep-fried food a week.
Recents tests of St Helens’ school meal suppliers - sparked by the horse meat scandal - found no evidence of any contamination.