SWA - School Meals Scheme

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The School Meals Programme operated by the Department of Social Protection provides funding towards provision of food services for disadvantaged school children through two schemes:

  • 1.The statutory Urban School Meals Scheme for primary schools
  • 2.The non-statutory School Meals (Local Projects) Scheme
Purpose of the School Meals Schemes

The aims of the schemes are to assist children who are unable by reason of lack of food to take full advantage of the education provided for them.

  • 1. Urban School Meals Scheme

The School Meals Scheme was originally introduced in 1914 for a two year period as a discretionary temporary measure in response to the Great Strike of 1913. The two year time limit was removed and control of the scheme was eventually transferred from the Minister for Local Government and Public Health to the Minister for Social Welfare in 1947.


Section 273 to 279 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 1981 enables Local Authority to make arrangements for the provision of meals for children attending National Schools within their areas and in certain cases outside their areas. There is no legal obligation on the local authorities to provide this service. Local authority means, in relation to a municipal district, the county council or the city and county council in which the municipal district is situated and in every other case a county council, a city council or a city and county council.

Role of Department/Funding

This Department has no function in initiating school meals programmes in schools. The role of the Department of Social Protection (DEASP) is to endorse the participation of schools in the scheme as recommended by the Local Authority. Local Authorities may recoup 50% of their expenditure on the provision of meals for eligible children only. Administration costs are covered in full by the Local Authorities

  • 2. School Meals Scheme - Local Projects

The School Meals Local Projects Scheme provides funding directly to primary schools, secondary schools, special schools, local groups, voluntary organisations and community based preschools which operate their own school meals projects. The main objective is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to lack of good quality food, to take full advantage of the education provided for them.

Priority for funding under the scheme is given to schools which are part of DEIS (in line with the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People, Better Outcomes Brighter Futures). In recent years, there is a particular focus on the provision of breakfast clubs which provide very positive outcomes for vulnerable children in terms of their school attendance, punctuality and energy levels.

Projects must be targeted at areas of disadvantage or at children with special needs. Funding under this scheme is for food only, which must be of suitable quality and nutritional value, and prepared and consumed in an appropriate environment.

The amount of funding allocated to a local project depends on the type and number of meals provided. The type and range of meals provided, as well as the method and logistics of supplying the meals, are decided by the individual local groups and schools that operate the projects.

The School Meals Programme is an important component of policies to aims to provide regular nutritious food to children to help improve their daily diet, to encourage school attendance and extra educational achievement by the children, particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

Last modified:11/05/2016

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