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School Meals Day

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

GMB Highlights £51.30 Difference In Yearly Price Of School Meals Across English Regions To Mark International School Meals Day On Thursday 5th March

Parents put off by prices so next government should take cost out of the equation by introducing free school meals for all primary-school children, not just infants.

GMB is highlighting a £51.30 difference in the yearly price of school meals in primary and special schools across the English regions to mark International School Meals Day on Thursday 5th March.

The South West (£2.17) had on average the most expensive primary and special school meals in England in 2013-14 while Yorkshire and the Humber (£1.90) had the least expensive. That is a difference of 27p per meal adding up to £51.30 over a 190-day school year.

The figures are for the 2013-14 financial year before the introduction of free school meals for all infant classes (ages 4-7) in September 2014. School meals for junior classes (ages 7-11) are still means-tested so most of these pupils still have to pay for meals if they want them.

Primary and special school meals were on average most expensive in the South West (£2.17) followed by the East Midlands (£2.09), West Midlands (£2.08), East of England and the South East (both £2.07), London (£2.04), the North West (£1.98), the North East (£1.95) and Yorkshire and the Humber (£1.90). The England average was £2.04.

Every region with above-average prices had below-average take-up rates of paid-for meals, compared to the England average of 35.5%. The two regions with on average the costliest primary and special school meals had the worst take up rates of all. In the South West only 28.2% of primary and special school pupils took up a school meal they had to pay for, and in the East Midlands 30.4%.

The figures are contained in a survey for the Department for Education which concludes that “cost can play an important role in the level of school lunch take-up” (see Note 1). This is in line with a 2014 Child Poverty Action Group report which found that “the price of food left many young people going hungry during the school day”. Similarly an earlier study by the School Food Trust found that one of the major factors why parents preferred packed lunches to school meals was that “packed lunches are seen to be cheaper and school meals too expensive” (see Note 2).

At school level, the most expensive meal recorded in the survey was £3 and the cheapest was £1. The report calculated that for every increase in average price by £1, take-up of school meals fell by 18.5 per cent.

GMB is publishing this analysis to coincide with International School Meals Day 2015 on Thursday 5 March which will see events held across the world to raise awareness of the importance of school meals to children’s education and wellbeing. The theme of this year’s International School Meals Day is celebrating culture through food (see Note 3).


(most expensive

to least expensive)


Average price of school meal in

primary and special schools in 2013-14


South West



East Midlands



West Midlands



East of England



South East









North West



North East



Yorkshire & the Humber


Brian Strutton, GMB National Secretary for Public Services said, “GMB represents over 120,000 school staff including thousands of cooks, catering assistants and midday supervisors.

We are delighted to support International School Meals Day because our members know how much school meals matter to children’s attainment and wellbeing. School meals are healthier than the typical packed lunch and far better than leaving kids just to eat snacks or nothing at all (see note 4).

We want more children to get the benefit of a hot, nutritious school dinner. The evidence suggests that a lot of parents are put off school meals because of the cost. The next government needs to take cost out of the equation by providing free school meals to all primary-school pupils, not just infants.

The figures also show that take-up of paid-for school lunches is higher on average in local-authority schools (35.2%) than in academies and free schools (32.9%). Take-up is also higher in schools with in-house catering provision than in those relying on private caterers.”


Contact: Brian Strutton, GMB National Secretary for Public Services on 07860 606137 or Avril Chambers, GMB National Officer on 07974 251766 of GMB Press Office: 07974 251823.

Notes to Editors:

1) NatCen Social Research, “School lunch take-up survey 2013 to 2014: Research report, January 2015” (

2) “25 per cent of students on free school meals; 55 per cent of low-income students; and 13 per cent of better-off students said that they were going hungry at school because they could not afford to eat. They reported that going hungry left them unable to concentrate at school.” Rys Farthing, “The Costs of Going to School, from Young People’s Perspectives”, April 2014 (

School Food Trust, “Parent Voice survey: school meals and packed lunches”, August 2011 (

3) International School Meals Day is an annual event celebrating food and promoting healthy living through the education environment. The aims of International School Meals Day are to:

- Raise awareness of the importance of the nutritional quality of school meal programs worldwide

- Emphasise the connection between healthy eating, education and better learning

- Connect children around the world to foster healthy eating habits and promote well-being in schools

- Share success stories of school meal programs around the globe

- Highlight research activities in school meal programs around the globe

- Raise awareness of the hunger and poverty issues being addressed through school feeding programmes

International School Meals Day is managed by Children in Scotland, the umbrella body for Scottish children's services organisations.

For more information visit or on Twitter @IntSchoolMeals.

4) “The vast majority of packed lunches are simply not nutritious enough. That is not a matter of opinion, but of empirical fact. Research published in 2010 by Dr Charlotte Evans of Leeds University revealed that only 1% of packed lunches meet the overall nutritional standards that currently apply to school food.” Henry Dimbleby & John Vincent, “The School Food Plan”, July 2013 (


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