A SCOTTISH City Council has approved an extension of free school meals in secondary schools after committee approval.

Aberdeen City Council’s Education Operational Delivery Committee today approved a proposal that will increase the number of pupils eligible for free meals in the city’s Secondary Schools.

The City Council has been working on increasing the uptake of the scheme and said the extension is an effort to maximise the number of children accessing free meals to ensure that everyone can make ‘the best possible start in life’.

Committee Convener, Councillor M Tauqeer Malik said he was ‘delighted’ with the decision.

He said: “I am delighted that, over the last year, we have been able to ensure that more eligible young people in our Secondary schools are accessing free food and that we have now been able to put in place actions to increase eligibility still further.

“Health and wellbeing are crucial elements in our ambitions to ensure that there are no socioeconomic disadvantages to attainment among all our children and young people and that each and every one of them has every opportunity to make the best possible start in life”.

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However, the number of children accessing the scheme is ‘historically low’, but a 30 per cent increase in registrations for 2020/21 seen uptake in free meals rise from 1,106 to 1,441.

To find out why the uptake in free meals is that low, the committee that approved the extension will also aim to identify and tackle those reasons such as improving the application process.

Also included in the list of identified problems surrounding the accessibility of the scheme is  improving parental awareness, and tackling any related stigma.

It comes as the council also identified two schools in the area which have the largest number of eligible pupils, but are not using the scheme.

Northfield and St Machar high schools were identified as ‘priorities’ when it comes to tackling the low uptake. 

The Press and Journal reported that councillors are looking to extend the “already successful” idea of food vans handing out school meals, now that £75,000 in funding has been provided.

A local authority report said: “A recognised barrier to take up is the desire of pupils to leave the building to get exercise and fresh air away from the school building.

“A solution proven to be effective in other areas is an external pod serving food.

“This approach is already successful at Oldmachar Academy and the Operational Delivery Committee in September 2021 awarded £75,000 to extend this approach.

“This introduction of a further pod is anticipated to increase overall uptake of school meals. It may also be utilised outside school times as relevant.

“We anticipate that a pod will be introduced by the end of the 2021/22 school year and we will closely evaluate its impact to determine any future proposals to further extend this approach for other schools.”