- Posted by: Joyce Watson MS
- Category: Feature
Assembly Member Joyce Watson has called for all schools in Carmarthenshire to consider stigma-free ways for pupils to receive their free school meals.
In a debate in the National Assembly on Tuesday (21 June), the Mid and West Wales AM argued that cashless meal systems, which use either biometric readings or swipe cards to register payment, are the best way of ensuring that pupils who receive free school meals cannot be identified.
Five out of 13 secondary schools in Carmarthenshire already use cashless systems with two introducing systems later this year and two more hoping to go cashless next year. Meanwhile, in Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, Powys and Gwynedd, only one or two schools in each county is cashless, according to research by the Labour AM for Mid and West Wales.
On Monday (20 June), Mrs Watson spent lunchtime at Glan-y-Mor school in Burry Port, where scans of pupils’ fingers are used to register payments, to see how the technology works.
Following her visit, Mrs Watson said:
“Like Jamie Oliver, we all want to see healthy school meals, but we also need stigma free school meals in Wales.
“Children who have to queue with ‘dinner tickets’ for free school meals are marked out from a young age, yet investment in technology can protect our children’s dignity and help parents, schools and education planners.
“For years, children who have had free school meals have used dinner tickets to purchase their lunch and these are still used in many schools today.”
Mrs Watson continued: “At best, ticket systems are inefficient to operate, at worst they can have a far-reaching bearing on a young person’s school life. Either way it’s out-dated and we should change it.
“Overall, the benefits of going cashless far outweigh the costs. Lunch services speed up by up to three times; more free school meals are taken up; and it’s easier for parents and pupils to keep track of what they’re eating; and by removing stigma and bullying, cashless systems have the potential to transform school meals in all Welsh schools.
“Education Minister Leighton Andrews has actively encouraged local authorities to adopt cashless systems, and he has argued for the right of every pupil to access free school meals without fear of being stigmatised.
“In schools like Glan-y-Mor, going cashless has ensured that pupils having free school meals cannot be identified, and bullying for dinner money has been reduced. Pupils can’t spend all their lunch money on snack food on the way into school and, by cutting queues, it gives them more time to eat and socialise with friends. It has also helped parents and pupils plan healthy diets – and as we know from Labour’s free school breakfast initiative, when children eat better they do better in class.
“Biometric systems are controversial – and must only ever be used with parents’ support. In Glan-y-Mor they operate both fingerprint technology and swipe cards in case parents object to the school having access to their child’s personal data, but the vast majority of pupils and parents have opted for biometric ID, not least because it has removed the problem and expense of replacing lost cards”,