School Healthy Living Survey: school meal uptake and PE provision statistics 2023

Statistics on school meal uptake and PE provision from the 2023 School Healthy Living Survey

This document is part of a collection

Data and Methodology

Sources and timing

The information comes from the latest Healthy Living Survey, conducted in February 2023, of all publicly funded schools in Scotland. This survey was conducted in the week commencing 20 February 2023.

In 2013, the collection was rescheduled to the first week of March due to the publicity around the possible presence of horse meat in school meals.  This was to ensure that the data produced were as representative of a usual school day as possible.

For more information on this survey and for a detailed breakdown at local authority, please refer to our supplementary data tables.

National Eligibility Criteria

Eligibility for free school meals secondary pupils and some primary stages is means tested. See School meals - for details.


Additionally, eligibility for free school meals was extended to all pupils in P1-P3 in January 2015, to all pupils in P4 in August 2021 and then to all pupils in P5 in January 2022. All pupils in those stages are therefore assumed to be registered for free school meals for the purposes of this collection.

Local initiatives to provide free school meals

Not all pupils who receive free school meals are eligible to do so under the national criteria as many local authorities have additional initiatives in place that extend the provision of free school meals beyond these criteria.

A pupil is considered to be registered for free school meals for the purposes of the Healthy Living Survey regardless of whether their eligibility is under national eligibility criteria or local initiatives. However, local authorities may not record all pupils registered for FSM under a local initiative in their management information systems. As these records form the basis of the Healthy Living Survey data, local authorities are asked to provide details of any pupils who receive FSM under local initiatives but who they have not recorded as FSM registered. This information is then used to amend the local authority management information system data returned to the Scottish Government during the initial survey. Therefore, the FSM registration information published from the Healthy Living Survey data is based on a combination of the information routinely held by schools and local authorities and the additional information provided to the Scottish Government at the time of the collection.

In some instances local authorities have returned data which does not include pupils registered for free school meals under a local initiative within either their pupils registered for free school meals or free meals taken data.

Local initiatives

In 2017 and 2018 work was undertaken with local authorities to explore their use of local initiatives to expand the provision of free school meals. Approximately half of all local authorities reported that they had an initiative in place to provide free meals to all pupils in at least some of their special schools.  This means particular caution should be applied when using free school meal registrations as a measure of deprivation in special schools.

Details of local initiatives in place during the 2023 Healthy Living Survey are provided below:

  • Argyll & Bute – pupils staying in the school hostels for Dunoon Grammar School and Oban High School are entitled to free school meals.
  • Dumfries & Galloway – all pupils with a Co-ordinated Support Plan are eligible to apply for free school meals.
  • Falkirk – pupils from homes in receipt of housing benefit or council tax reduction are eligible to apply for free school meals.
  • Inverclyde – enhanced criteria based on more generous benefits thresholds. See Local Authority website for details.
  • Stirling – pupils in the Special Unit at Wallace High School receive free school meals under a local initiative.
  • West Dunbartonshire – enhanced criteria based on more generous benefits thresholds. See Local Authority website for details.
  • West Lothian – some pupils with additional support needs within mainstream schools receive free school meals under a local initiative.


Free school meals in special schools

From January 2022, all pupils at special schools have been entitled to free school meals. However, this change in policy is still in the process of being rolled out.

Data quality

Local authorities are asked to provide data for an alternative day if they conducted the Healthy Living Survey on a day where there was a class trip or an unusually large group of pupils were out of school. Details of the schools where alternative data was used can be found in the school level dataset.

Take up of meals varies from day to day for a number of reasons. For example, some daily menus are more popular than others. This survey takes a snapshot of meals taken on a particular day so it is susceptible to the daily fluctuations in meals taken.

The methodology for recording meals taken varies between local authorities. For example, some report the count of meals taken, while others estimate meals taken based on the total food spend/receipts for the day.

A number of schools share dining facilities and were not able to separate out their meals information. Local authorities therefore returned their combined meal information against one school only. There are a number of schools which share dining facilities across sectors, therefore the meal information will only be included against one of the schools for all sector split figures. For the purposes of calculating uptake rates, the pupil roll from the school without meal data is added to the host school.

Changes to data

Some of the figures originally published on percentage uptake of school meals in 2015 were amended in June 2016 after a processing error relating to the number of P1-P3 pupils present was discovered in nine schools in North Lanarkshire.  This impacted on the percentage uptake figures for P1-P3, all primary and all sectors combined.

Changes were made to 2018 data published for City of Edinburgh and North Lanarkshire at school and local authority level. This data was amended, and the 2018 Healthy Living Survey was republished in August 2019. These changes did not have substantial impact on figures at a Scotland level.


To protect against the release of identifiable personal information, Jordanhill primary and secondary are not shown in School Healthy Living Survey Statistics from 2018 onwards.

Physical education

For the purposes of this survey, physical education must take place during curriculum time and be led by a GTCS registered physical education, or class, teacher. Certified and non-certified PE are both included, providing it supports the experiences and outcomes defined by Curriculum for Excellence. For example, dance is included but walking to school and drama are not. In 2014, the survey guidance was improved to make clear what was required for a school to have met the physical education target.

Data on the provision of PE is now collected as part of the Establishments Collection and will be published as part of the quarterly release of school contact details. This change in mode of collection was made to make the data collection process more efficient.

Supplementary tables

A large number of supplementary tables providing additional breakdowns of these statistics are released in conjunction with this bulletin.

Further information

Information on Physical Education provision in schools was also collected in 2005 and published as ‘Progress towards the recommendations of the Physical Education Review Group’ in January 2006’.

Statutory guidance supporting the implementation of the Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2020.



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