Tuesday, 25 May 2021
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
School Meals Programme
374. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will extend the free hot school meals programme to all DEIS schools and all other schools that request to participate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27515/21]
The school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,506 schools and organisations benefitting 230,000 children. The objective of the programme is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to lack of good quality food, to take full advantage of the education provided to them. The programme is an important component of policies to encourage school attendance and extra educational achievement.
As part of Budget 2019, funding was provided for a pilot scheme from September 2019, providing hot school meals in primary schools at a cost of €1m for 2019 and €2.5m in 2020. The pilot involved 37 schools benefitting 6,744 students for the 2019/2020 academic year and was aimed primarily at schools with no onsite cooking facilities.
In Budget 2021, I announced that an additional €5.5m would be provided to extend the provision of hot school meals to an additional 35,000 primary school children, currently receiving the cold lunch option. Officials from the Department issued invitations for expressions of interest to 705 (612 DEIS and 95 non-DEIS) primary schools in November 2020. A total of 281 (256 DEIS and 25 non-DEIS) expressions of interest were received in respect of 52,148 children.
The 35,000 places were allocated to each local authority area based on the number of children applied by local authority as a percentage of the total number. A minimum of one school for each Local Authority area was selected. Thereafter, a process of random selection was used for each area.
As a result of this process, 189 of the 281 schools that submitted an expression of interest were selected. Of the 189 schools selected, 171 (90.5%) are DEIS and 18 (9.5%) are non-DEIS.
Due to the fact that the funding available was limited to 35,000 children, it was not possible to include all schools that submitted and expression of interest to avail of hot school meals. I appreciate that this is disappointing for the schools concerned.
I am currently exploring options for the possible inclusion of unsuccessful schools in the Hot School Meals programme.
Any further extension of the provision of hot meals will need to be considered in a budgetary context.
I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.