An additional 3,876 children in Norfolk are now eligible for free school meals after a sharp rise in uptake during the pandemic.

While the percentage of pupils on free school meals was already increasing prior to Covid, the number of Norfolk children eligible rose by 21pc to 22,719 between January 2020 and January 2021.

Nine Norfolk schools saw increases of more than 50pc, while at six schools more than half of pupils are eligible, according to figures from the Department for Education.

Mike Smith-Clare, Labour group lead for children and young people on Norfolk County Council, said the numbers relying on free lunches, which for many children might be the only hot food of the day, was “truly unacceptable”.

“The fact that so many children require free school meals indicates a deeper problem that is not being adequately resolved or addressed,” he said.

Scott Lyons, Norfolk joint division secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said the economic impact of Covid meant schools had seen more families come forward to claim free meals who had previously seen it as a stigma.

“Many people have lost their jobs or have been forced to change jobs and that has meant they’ve been more open about their vulnerability,” he said.

The highest percentage increase in free meal pupils was seen at Rosecroft Primary School in Attleborough where numbers were up 84pc from 31 to 57.

Both North Walsham Infant School and Nursery and Hillcrest Primary School in Downham Market saw eligible pupils rise by 56pc.

Families with children eligible for free school meals are continuing to receive food vouchers worth £15 per child per week through the summer holidays after Norfolk County Council received additional Covid support funding from the government.

Last summer, the government was forced into a u-turn, after a high-profile campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford for free school meal vouchers to be available for six weeks during the holidays.

Charities, community groups and Norfolk school groups are also providing summer holiday help.

Rebecca Atkinson, voluntary chair of Friends of Hewett PTA charity, which is providing £15 grocery vouchers to families in need who request one, even if they don’t receive free school meals, said: “We don’t ask questions. We do know that there are many families who may be right on the threshold for meals.”

Norfolk schools with highest number of pupils eligible for FSM

Great Yarmouth Charter Academy (373)
Ormiston Victory Academy (302)
Ormiston Venture Academy (302)
City Academy Norwich (285)
Cliff Park Ormiston Academy (277)
City of Norwich School (269)
Lynn Grove Academy (259)
Catton Grove Primary School (245)
Hellesdon High School (244)
Springwood High School (241)

Norfolk schools where the percentage of pupils eligible for FSM is more than half

Short Stay School for Norfolk (60pc)
Norwich Primary Academy (56.9pc)
Valley Primary Academy (56pc)
Great Yarmouth Primary Academy (54.3pc)
John Grant School (54pc)
Peterhouse CofE Primary Academy (51.1pc)

Is my child entitled to free school meals?

All infant state school pupils (those in reception and in Years 1 and 2) can get free school meals during term time - regardless of their household income.
If your child is in Year 3 or above, they are are eligible for free school meals if you receive one of the following benefits:

  • Income support.
  • Income-based jobseeker’s allowance.
  • Income-related employment and support allowance.
  • Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
  • The guaranteed element of pension credit.
  • Child tax credit (provided you’re not also entitled to working tax credit and have an annual income of no more than £16,190).
  • Working tax credit run-on - paid for four weeks after you stop qualifying for working tax credit.
  • Universal Credit - with an annual earned income of no more than £7,400 after tax.

Tens of thousands of parents are being reminded to apply for free school meals ahead of the new term. You can apply online via Norfolk Education Online (NEO).