Concern at small uptake of free school meals in Cookstown

A UNIONIST MLA has voiced concern regarding the number of children currently receiving free school meals in the Mid-Ulster constituency area.

UUP Assembly Member Sandra Overend said more needs to be done to encourage parents to avail of the option, particularly in the Cookstown area.

The MLA told the MAIL: “It has been brought to my attention that only a small percentage of school pupils are actually availing of the Free School Meal option available to them. This issue appears to be particularly felt in the Cookstown District area and is most concerning given the far reaching negative impacts it has. “

“Failure to avail of the Free School Meal option presents a range of problems,” added Mrs Overend.

“Firstly, for school children, who may not be getting the nutrition they need to ensure optimum performance while in school; to parents who are subsequently missing out on valuable financial contributions towards both school meals and Physical Education kits, and, finally, it issues a negative impact on the school itself as it misses out on vital funding which is tied to the uptake of free school meals.”

The MLA has urged local parents to check their children’s eligibility for the benefit, stating that criteria for Free School Meals is “quite expansive”.

“I have a particular interest in promoting the education of our young people, for with a strong educational grounding one lays the foundations necessary for a healthier and successful employment career.

“I believe we must all do our part to contribute in whatever way we can to improve the current situation and I would encourage all parents to review their eligibility for the Free School Meals option, as the criteria is quite expansive.

The Ulster Unionist continued: “For example if a pupil may be entitled to Free School Meals if their parent or guardian is in receipt of Income Support, Income-Based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-Related Employment and Support Allowance, or Child Tax Credit. There are several other qualifying factors and I urge all parents and guardians to take immediate action to ensure that they and their children are receiving all the help they are entitled to.”

The UUP MLA added that by taking advantage of the option, parents and children would not only helping themselves, but; “will serve to help benefit their school by ensuring that their school is able to get all the finances it is entitled to.”

She concluded: “If you require any further information or advice with application forms do not hesitate to contact my Mid-Ulster Advice Office on 1 High Street, Moneymore, 028 8674 8090.”