Counting the proportion of pupils taking free faculty meals is an more and more unreliable manner of measuring poverty and the equity of admissions insurance policies, researchers say.
St Mary’s College says free meals could be a “deceptive” marker for deprivation in colleges.
The examine warns of the necessity to help the “hidden poor”.
Workplace for Nationwide Statistics figures lately confirmed two-thirds of youngsters in poverty are actually in working households.
Free faculty meals have been extensively used as a manner of wanting on the social profile of faculties – however the analysis argues that this has did not mirror modifications within the labour market and monetary pressures on low-income working households.
The examine by St Mary’s College in south-west London appears to be like at pupils receiving free meals in Catholic colleges in England and Wales.
Religion colleges have confronted accusations of being socially selective – and in Catholic colleges, about 12% of pupils obtain free meals, in contrast with a state faculty common of about 14%.
However the examine from St Mary’s, a Catholic greater training establishment, argues that such figures have change into an “an unreliable indicator” of hardship.
It says if the identical colleges are assessed by one other official measure of poverty – the Revenue Deprivation Affecting Kids Index – the end result is reversed, with disproportionately excessive ranges of pupils in Catholic colleges dwelling in probably the most disadvantaged areas.
The examine says that counting poverty by the take-up of free meals can miss the “working poor” who’re in short-term and sometimes low-paid jobs, transferring out and in of employment.
Figures from the Workplace for Nationwide Statistics present that youngsters in poverty are actually extra prone to be in working households than non-working households.
Amongst youngsters recognized as being in poverty, 67% are in households with no less than one mother or father working, the best recorded stage.
Prime Minister Theresa Could has spoken of the necessity to assist “nearly managing households”, the place dad and mom may be working lengthy hours in a number of jobs.
Such working households may be going through hardship, however won’t be eligible totally free meals.
Eligibility totally free faculty meals is for households in receipt of a spread of advantages and with an revenue beneath £16,190 – however households on working tax credit are excluded.
Pupils taking free meals are additionally used to resolve how a lot cash colleges obtain within the pupil premium, concentrating on funding at deprived children.
The analysis by Prof Stephen Bullivant additionally highlights that the measurement of free faculty meals pupils relies on take-up, fairly than eligibility.
There are dad and mom who may be eligible however who don’t settle for free meals – due to a stigma round youngsters being recognized or due to “cultural” causes for not wanting to simply accept welfare.
The analysis warns that specializing in free faculty meal eligibility can present an inaccurate image of the social consumption of the remainder of a college.
“Free faculty meals eligibility is taken as ‘poor’ youngsters – and any not getting free meals are seen to be prosperous and center class,” mentioned Prof Bullivant.
However he says many households face “precarious lives” and are “struggling to make ends meet”, however is not going to present up in free meals figures.
“Class inequality is an actual drawback in Britain affecting youngsters’s attainment. This information fails to know completely different levels of poverty,” says Prof Bullivant.
“At a time when colleges are going through funding struggles, a multi-faceted method is required to make sure that youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds, who’re presently unaccounted for by the system – the ‘hidden poor’ – obtain the focused help they want.”