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Darlington College free meals protest
STUDENTS in further education colleges have said they are being served up a raw deal when it comes to free meals.
Young people from Darlington College have called on the Government to address the inequalities in the free meal system.
Students from low-income families who attend further education facilities, such as sixth form colleges and technical colleges, do not receive free school meals, while their counterparts who attend schools with sixth forms attached are entitled to them.
Yesterday, the students at Darlington passed on their concerns to local MP Jenny Chapman.
Ryan Gaze, 18, from Leyburn, North Yorkshire, said subsidising school meals to the tune of £2 a day could make a big difference for students from low-income families.
He said: “We feel strongly about this.
“We should be allowed the same privileges as people in schools.
“It’s perfectly reasonable that people doing the same courses but in different places should get the same privileges.
“With the loss of the Education Maintenance Allowance, coming to college can be a struggle for some people, especially along with bus fares. This is a basic right.”
College principal Tim Grant said he was aware that some of his students were undernourished as a result of being unable to afford proper lunches.
He said: “The same issues that affect young people who are getting free meals at school affect young people that are here.
“Less well-off families are struggling with transport costs and struggling to support young people in education.
“From our point of view, my teachers struggle when young people can’t concentrate because they’re hungry.
“This year, we’ve had a number of people who we have noticed have been undernourished.”
Mrs Chapman said: “The young people are making a very strong case.
“It’s something that the Government needs to look at.
“My concern is that, because of the lack of financial support, young people will fall out of education earlier in their lives than they would otherwise.”
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “We do recognise that this is a concern, but we are looking closely into the situation.
“In a tough financial climate, difficult decisions always have to be made.”