The number of pupils eating free school meals is rising, a new study has discovered.
Teaching union the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) surveyed its members and found that more than a third of people in education jobs said the number of children getting free dinners had risen over the last five years.
The majority of those that reported an increase attributed the rise to the current economic climate.
A rise could be significant as it is through free school meals that the government classifies children as 'disadvantaged'.
However, nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of those polled said that new cashless swipe cards mean children receiving free school meals are not easily identified.
Half of those in teaching jobs who responded to the survey stated that there should not be a universal entitlement to free school meals, though 44 per cent said that all primary school children should be given lunch for free.
This figure dropped to 23 per cent when it came to youngsters at secondary schools.
Commenting on the figures, Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said it was unsurprising that in the current economic climate the number of pupils receiving free school meals has risen.
"It is encouraging to hear that three-quarters of respondents feel their school or college does enough to ensure those eligible for free school meals receive them by making sure it is advertised; after-all, for some children it may be their only hot meal of the day," she added.
For children paying for their lunch, costs appear to have risen this year. Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of teachers said prices had gone up, with 82 per cent of those saying lunches have increased by less than 50p, equating to around £95 extra per year for each child.
The Jamie Oliver Foundation's schools project manager, Michelle Smith, highlighted the importance of eating a good lunchtime meal at school.
"It increases a child's concentration, improves their behaviour in class, and their chances of doing well and achieving their best at school," she said.
Posted by Tim Colman