The number of children in England who are entitled to free school meals has increased dramatically during the pandemic.
New figures from January data show more than 420,000 students have become eligible for food aid since the first nationwide lockdown in March 2020, bringing the total to 1.74 million.
As a result, more than one in five children (20.8%) in England are now poor enough to qualify, up from 17.3% in 2020.
The statistics for January are the most up-to-date, but the funding for school bonuses, which is linked to free school meals, is for the first time based on statistics collected last October.
Wayne Norrie is Managing Director of Greenwood Academies Trust, which operates 37 schools in the East Midlands and East of England. The majority of her children come from economically disadvantaged families, with almost 50% entitled to free school meals.
He says that over the past three years he has noticed that “the children were getting poorer before our eyes”, with families more dependent on school for food aid.
Norrie says parents at his school have really struggled and he’s increasingly worried about the impact of the pandemic on the language and basic skills of his students.
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