Chapter 3: Background notes
3.1 National Statistics publication
This is a National Statistics Publication. National Statistics are produced to high professional standards set out in the Code of Practice for Statistics.
These statistics undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure that they meet customer needs. They are produced free from any political interference. This publication has been assessed by the UK Statistics Authority.
3.2 Sources and timing
The information comes from the latest Healthy Living Survey, conducted in February 2022, of all publicly funded schools in Scotland. This survey was conducted in the week commencing 21 February 2022.
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 and school level, please refer to our supplementary data tables.
3.3 Definitions and data quality
3.3.1 National Eligibility Criteria
The national criteria for eligibility to free school meals includes the following:
- Pupils within families who receive Income Support, Income-based Job Seekers Allowance or any income related element of Employment and Support Allowance.
- Pupils within families who receive support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
- Pupils whose parents or carers receive Child Tax Credit, do not receive Working Tax Credit and had an annual income (as assessed by the Inland Revenue) of below £16,105 (from April 2013).
- Pupils whose parents or carers are in receipt of both Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit and their income is up to £6,900 were also entitled (from August 2009).
- Pupils whose parents or carers are in receipt of Universal Credit and their monthly earned income does not exceed £610 were also entitled (from August 2017).
- Pupils in school education who receive any of these benefits in their own right are also entitled to receive free school meals.
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.
3.3.2 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.
3.3.3 Overview of 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 2022 Healthy Living Survey are provided below:
Local initiatives in primary and secondary schools
- Argyll & Bute – pupils staying in the school hostels for Dunoon Grammar School and Oban High School are entitled to free school meals.
- Clackmannanshire – all pupils at the Extended Additional Support unit at Alloa Academy are entitled to free school meals.
- Dumfries & Galloway – all pupils with a Co-ordinated Support Plan are eligible to apply for free school meals. Figures suggest uptake is not universal.
- Threshold for pupils whose parents or carers are in receipt of both Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit was £12,417.
- Threshold for pupils whose parents or carers are in receipt of Universal Credit was £1,007 per month.
- Perth & Kinross – all pupils in families qualifying for the clothing grant are automatically registered for free school meals.
- West Dunbartonshire:
- Threshold for pupils whose parents or carers receive Child Tax Credit only is £18,400.
- Threshold for pupils whose parents or carers are in receipt of both Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit was £10,420.
- Threshold for pupils whose parents or carers are in receipt of Universal Credit was an annual income of £8,920.
Local initiatives in special schools
Local Authorities where all pupils at all special schools are entitled to free school meals include Clackmannanshire, Falkirk (including the ASL wings at Kinnaird Primary School and Maddiston Primary School), Fife, Glasgow City, Inverclyde, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, Stirling and West Lothian.
Local Authorities where all pupils at one special school are entitled to free school meals - Dundee City, East Renfrewshire, North Ayrshire and Renfrewshire.
Local Authorities where all pupils at two or more special schools are entitled to free school meals - East Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire.
Other local initiatives in special schools
- Dumfries & Galloway – all pupils with a Co-ordinated Support Plan are eligible to apply for free school meals. Figures suggest uptake is not universal.
3.3.4 Measure of deprivation
As the national criteria for free school meal eligibility are largely based on the receipt of benefits, statistics on free school meal registrations from the Healthy Living Survey have been used as a measure of deprivation. However, several factors need to be taken into account when using the statistics in this way. Firstly, the introduction of universal free school meal eligibly to all P1-P3 and then to P5 pupils means that it is not appropriate to use free school meal statistics for whole primary schools as a measure of deprivation from 2015 onwards. Statistics for P4-P7 are available from 2015 and for P6-P7 from 2022 and their use as a measure of deprivation is not affected by this policy change. However, this data is now affected by local initiatives extending universal provision.
The use of statistics on free school meal registrations as a measure of deprivation is also affected by initiatives used by local authorities to extend the provision of free school meals beyond the national criteria and cause eligibility criteria to vary across Scotland. These initiatives have changed over the years, as summarised above, therefore affecting the suitability of year on year comparisons of the data and comparisons between local authorities.
There are a number of differences in the eligibility criteria for free school meals across the UK, so any comparisons made using free school registration statistics between parts of the UK will not be on a like for like basis.
3.3.5 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. See the school level supplementary dataset for more information on the schools involved.
3.3.6 Comparison to Pupil Census
Statistics on the school pupils registered for free school meals as collected in the annual pupil census has been published since the 2018 census. This was most recently published in 2022 and now covers pupil censuses conducted in Septembers of 2018 to 2021.
The information on free school meal registrations in the Pupil Census comes from individual pupil records. Therefore, the census provides the opportunity for more detailed analysis of the demographics of pupils registered for free school meals than the Healthy Living Survey.
The Healthy Living Survey collects additional information on school meals from the Pupil Census, such as uptake of meals and the number of paid for meals.
The published Pupil Census statistics include the number and percentage of primary, secondary and special pupils registered for free school meals, split by stage at national and local authority level. This is available in Tables 2.22, 3.11, 4.10, 6.17, 7.14 and 8.13 of the Pupil Census Supplementary Tables. Pupil census data on FSM registered pupils is also available at school level in the school level summary statistics.
There are differences between the free school meal statistics in the two collections. This is to be expected for a number of reasons, primarily related to the different timings of the collections:
- Individual circumstance changes:
- The circumstances of pupils and their families may change between the collection dates. Some pupils may become eligible, while others may lose their eligibility. These changes will be reflected in different registration numbers in the collections.
- This is also influenced by how frequently authorities review registrations and/or require pupils to re-register. In some areas, registrations may be valid for multiple years or more while in others they may be for shorter periods including years or terms.
- Late registrations
- The pupil census is taken close to the start of the school year. Therefore, if pupils are required to register every year, some pupils may not be registered in time for the data collection. The HLS takes place later in the year, allowing more time for pupils to register.
- Cohort changes:
- The HLS and pupil census for the same calendar year will take place in different school years. Stage figures will therefore refer to different cohorts of pupils, between which some variation in free school meal registrations will occur.
- Changes to eligibility criteria between collection dates:
- If national or local eligibility criteria for free school meals changes between the collections, the number of pupils eligible to register for them will also change and this will be reflected in the statistics.
- Changes in recording systems:
- Several local authorities reported that between the 2018 HLS and 2018 pupil census they had moved to a system that automatically registers pupils' entitlement to free school meals based upon information held in their benefits systems. This may have led to different numbers of pupils being recorded as registered.
Due to these variations, we advise caution when comparing the statistics from these two collections.
3.3.7 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. Free school meal registration and meal uptake information for Jordanhill can be found in Table 30, while PE provision data can be found in Table 29 of the supplementary tables.
3.3.8 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.
3.4 Supplementary tables
A large number of additional tables are produced in Excel on or after the publication date and are published on the Scottish Government website.
The following supplementary tables on school meals and Physical Education are available at: School education statistics - gov.scot (www.gov.scot)
3.5 Further information
Information on Physical Education provision in schools was also collected in 2005 and was published on the Scottish Government website in 'Progress towards the recommendations of the Physical Education Review Group' in January 2006, at the following address: Progress towards the recommendations of the Physical Education Review Group (webarchive.org.uk)
Information on the Urban Rural classification used for some statistics in the supplementary tables can be found on the Scottish Government website: Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification 2020 - gov.scot (www.gov.scot)
For the purpose of the Healthy Living Survey, a lunch is defined in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 as amended by the Schools (Health promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Act 2007 as any food or drink provided in the middle of the day which the education authority consider is appropriate for consumption as a meal at that time of the day.
For more guidance of schools meals please refer to Healthy eating in schools: guidance 2020 - gov.scot (www.gov.scot) and Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) Scotland Act: Health promotion guidance for local authorities and schools - gov.scot (www.gov.scot)
All percentages are rounded separately so breakdowns may not sum to the total shown.
The following symbols are used:
0 = nil or rounds to nil
* = suppressed
# = not applicable
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