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Schools / youth

Apply for free school meals - 2015

Why important

Information about schools attracts about 5% of visits. One important transaction concerns the provision of free school meals, which matters to many parents in difficult times. From the school’s point of view it is also important to claim the benefit as it generates payment of the pupil premium, which lasts as long as the child is at the school, even if the entitlement ceases.


Most councils handle this task reasonably well, with 44% achieving our standard. The main area of weakness is a lack of information about how long the application process might take.


All councils except shire districts and districts in Northern Ireland (206 councils in all).

Primary route for this task

We assessed this task primarily via the home page.

Headline results


Achieved standard

The standard
  • At least 6 questions from 10 answered 'Yes'
  • Question Q37 must be answered 'Yes'
  • Question Q45 must be 'No' (content must not be out of date)
  • Promotion of task rated satisfactory or very good
  • Customer journey rated satisfactory or very good

How effectively is this council promoting this as a task?

Overall, how do you rate the journey plus task completion?

  • Very good
  • Satisfactory
  • Poor
  • No information


NB Question highlighted in green is an ‘essential question’ that must be answered correctly for the council to meet the standard for this task

Percentage answered correctly
Questions to be answered 'Yes'
Q35 Does the home page lead me directly to information about school meals? 73%
Q36 Is there explicit mention of free school meals? 71%
Q37 Does it explain who qualifies for free school meals? 66%
Q38 Is it clear how to claim free school meals? 69%
Q39 Can I apply online to claim free school meals 38%
Q40 If yes, is it clear what information is required before starting the application? 20%
Q41 Does it tell me what happens after applying, and how long the process is likely to take? 12%
Q42 Does a Google search lead me to the task? 99%
Q43 Does a site search return the correct result listed in the first five results? 96%
Q44 Is there an entry in the A to Z index? 70%
Out of date information, answered 'No'
Q45 Did you come across any out-of-date information about this task? 64%
How effectively is this council promoting this as a task? Average score (0-3)
Q46 How effectively is this council promoting this as a task? 2
Overall, how do you rate the journey plus task completion? Average score (0-3)
Q47 Overall, how do you rate the journey plus task completion? 1.8

Task report

Good practice

Finding the task

  • Find the task by entering ‘council name’ free school meals into Google (or other search engine).
  • Provide a prominent link from the home page, the schools (or education) landing page and the benefits landing page to a brief description.
  • Provide a clear link from any page about school meals, catering or starting school.
  • Take visitors to the same page from any site search result or A to Z entry. (Note: in the A to Z it is fine to have just a broader entry for ‘school meals’, but ensure that this clearly links to relevant details of free meals).
  • Do not expect parents to know that the entitlement even exists; promote it from all relevant pages, including those about related benefits such as clothing allowances.
  • In two-tier areas, signpost the task from the appropriate district council sites.

Completing the task

  • Provide clear information up front about entitlement.
  • Explain the entire process, including what happens after applying and how long it will take.
  • Pre-empt visitors who come to the site, having heard about the new national entitlement and design the journey to answer all the obvious questions.
  • When providing application forms (online or downloadable), link directly to these rather than asking the user to look elsewhere on the page to find them.
  • Where online applications are available, make sure that the form is designed to be simple and only asks for essential information.
  • Ensure that the online form explains at the start what information will be required and how long it might take to complete the form.
  • Be clear about the types of evidence that you will need and how this should be submitted.
  • After users have completing the application form, provide them with clear details of what will happen next, and how they will hear back.
  • Explain the advantages of applying even when school meals are already free for certain ages (ie the pupil premium).

Poor practice

  • The site fails to mention the new national entitlement scheme (where applicable) which parents are likely to have heard about.
  • It fails to mention free school meals on related school meal/catering pages.
  • Many sites only feature this information within the benefits section of the site, meaning that you would probably need to know that the benefit of free school meals exists to go looking for it there.
  • Crucial information is buried in downloadable school handbooks or leaflets, rather than presented as web content.
  • The application form asks for excessive or seemingly irrelevant information without explaining why.
  • There is confusion between online and offline application forms – some sites seemed to promote the downloadable form before the online version.
  • The application form is hidden under a generic ‘Request it’ section.
  • The information is buried in an inappropriate section, e.g. one site put it under the far from obvious ‘Attendance, behaviour and welfare’.
  • Search results only return press releases on the subject, rather than going to the main information.
  • Pages refer to ‘future’ changes which have actually now passed, making the page look out of date.
  • Pages are cluttered with obscure references to catering services or healthy eating initiatives such as ‘Appetite for Life’ in Wales.
  • Some sites simply directed you to contact the school – in some cases, with no clear link to relevant contact details.

Reviewer's tip

None of my allocation described what happened after the application, whether or not I should tell the school about my applications or what my child would have to do at school (e.g. use a swipe card). There was a lack of information about how long the application process would take.

Provide additional guidance about how long the process takes, what to tell the school and what instructions to give your child about what they do at school.

Sites that we recommend

Bristol City

Good encouragement to apply online. The information provided is very clear and easy to follow. The introductory page on the form also provides a good explanation about what evidence might be required and when.

Cumbria CC

Very easy to find, and informative. An explanation of how long the process takes, e.g. when you can expect confirmation that your application has been accepted, would be helpful for people.

Derbyshire CC

Fantastic – a clear, simple information page, with an online form right there on the page which will check your eligibility using just your NHS number, as far as I can see. It appears Derbyshire is part of a pilot to do this, but in any case it is a good example of how you can present a range of information simply and clearly in one place.

Kent CC

Good clear information, simply explained.


Very well structured information. The only thing I couldn’t find was how long the process may take.

Somerset CC

Very comprehensive content yet easy to read. Could perhaps be better signposted from the education landing page.

Tameside MBC

Easy to find and useful information, good online form and clear about how I go about applying.



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