How to Improve the take up of free school meals?

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The question of how to improve the take up of free school meal entitlement is a real challenge for some schools and further education colleges.

In 2013, It was announced that all infant school pupils in state funded schools will be eligible for a free school meal from September 2014. Disadvantaged students at sixth form colleges and further education colleges were also to become eligible for free school meals from September 2014.

Since the introduction of the policy in 2014, there have been changes along the way with the youngest pupils in the first three years of primary education to no longer receive a free meal in England with differing policies in Wales and Scotland.

In further education colleges, disadvantaged students will continue to be entitled to a daily allowance at a rate equivalent to £2.41 per student per meal for the academic year 2017 to 2018. However, research shows that a lack of take up of the free meal entitlement in some cases is associated with peer effect and the fear of being stigmatised. This is a real problem, not only for students who miss out on an entitlement, but also for the school or college in terms of their effectiveness in administering the scheme. 

In order to increase the take up of free meal entitlement, making the process anonymous is a key factor.  Administration of the scheme should be invisible and not differentiate between those entitled to free meals and those who are not.

Haven Systems cashless EPOS seamlessly handles all transactions whether a free meal entitlement or not as the daily credit forms part of a total or existing balance. If a transaction value exceeds the daily free meal entitlement then the balance will be deducted from other funds on a student account. Unlike 'tokens', the daily allowance may be spent in increments so that the total entitlement is not depleted in a single transaction if the value of a purchase is less that the £2.41 per day.

Colleges can take advantage of standard technology so that an existing Mifare card may also be used as a cashless catering card. Options to use biometric fingerprint recognition as a means of account authentication are also available as part of the system.

Implementing education EPOS systems can deliver a solution that helps to improve the take up of free meals and provides a convenient and easy way for students, parents and staff to ‘top up’ online via the cashless payment portal. Maximum daily spend limits mean that parents can top up their child’s account safe in the knowledge that daily spend is controlled.

Cashless reports and analytics provide management teams with great insights into spend patterns and the take up of free meal entitlement. Individual transactions are recorded in the cashless payment portal with itemised products purchased, parents can see what their child is purchasing on their account.

Account balances and transaction details are held centrally with a failover in case of network issues. As the card does not store the account balance, lost cards can be cancelled as soon as notification is received.

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