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NAHT adds name to call for auto-enrolment for children eligible for free school meals

On International School Meals Day (14 March), NAHT has added its name to a letter to schools minister Damien Hinds calling for the introduction of auto-enrolment for all children eligible for free school meals (FSM)

Over the last year, a small number of councils have adopted a new FSM process using an ‘opt-out/right to object’ model. This involves identifying families through existing datasets and writing to parents to inform them their children will be automatically registered unless they opt out. The latest analysis of this work coordinated through the School Food Review Group, of which NAHT is a member, has found that more than 2,500 additional children have been registered to receive free school meals, bringing in over £ 4.5 million in additional school funding.

Concerningly, this work has also highlighted potential disparities in the existing FSM registration processes. For example, in Lambeth in London 89% of newly identified pupils came from lone-parent households, 59% came from households with English as an additional language, and 79% came from Black, Asian and multi-ethnic backgrounds (compared to 66% of the school population). This suggests that the existing FSM registration system acts as a barrier to certain minoritised groups accessing their entitlement.

As such, the letter calls on the government to:

  • commit to introducing a revised FSM registration process, so that all children entitled are automatically registered
  • In the interim, promote and support local authorities to implement the ‘opt-out/right to object’ FSM model
  • Provide datasets to each council to show the current levels of under-registration, by combining relevant Department for Education and Department for Work and Pensions datasets.


First published 14 March 2024