School uniform grants and free meals: How you can get help with new term costs

160222 School uniform
A survey commissioned in 2021 by Lloyds Bank found parents spend around £183 per child at the start of a new school year.

With a new school term approaching, the prospect of spending cash on uniform, school trips and sports kits also looms closer.

With the current cost of living pressures and inflation reaching a 40-year-high, many families may be struggling with back to school costs.

There are currently around 190,000 children living in poverty in Wales according to the Children's Commissioner and with bills expected to rise further this winter, it's a concerning time financially for households.

But there is help out there for those worried about affording the new school year.

  • Uniform

Pupils whose families are on lower incomes and qualify for certain benefits can apply for the Pupil Development Grant through their local authority. This money can then be used to help with uniform costs as well as things like school trips, stationery and PE kit.

The grant is £225 per student, or £300 for year 7 starters because of the increased costs associated with starting secondary school.

This scheme is now open to parents of children in all school years, from reception through to year 11, and is available to claim once per child, per school year.

You have until 30 June 2023 to apply for the 2022 - 2023 round of grants.

  • A Cardiff-based charity that supply second-hand school uniforms has seen demand soar amid rising costs

According to retail business expert Kate Hardcastle MBE, another way to help lower the costs of uniform in the long-term is to buy bigger sizes in the sales and store for future years.

She also encouraged parents not to simply go for the cheapest option, as the quality could mean you end up buying the same items twice. She added that this is particularly key when buying shoes.

Shopping around online and in store, as well as signing up to relevant e-mailing lists, can help you find the best deals out there.

Keeping a shopping list of items your child absolutely needs is another way to save money and stop over-buying.

  • Lunches

In Wales, free school lunches mean the cost of that meal is covered for some pupils.

From the start of this school year, free school meals are being rolled out for all reception pupils and primary school children. This programme should be delivered by the end of 2024, as part of the Welsh Government's Co-operation Agreement with Plaid Cymru.

If your school is yet to roll out free meals for all primary and reception aged children or your child is older, they may still qualify if you receive certain benefits like Universal Credit, Income Support or Child Tax Credit.

This scheme is available to eligible pupils in all years who are in school full-time, right up to and including school-based sixth form students.

While all school children primary aged or under will receive free school meals by 2024, some secondary aged pupils also qualify. Credit: PA Images

To check if you are eligible, you need to go to your local authority's website and then apply through the council too. This process can be done online in most local authority areas but parents are advised to contact their child's school if they need more information.

Some primary schools maintained by the local authority provide free breakfasts too, so check in with your school to see if your child can access this.

  • Transport

In Wales, if you’re aged 16 to 21 you can apply for a MyTravelPass, which gives the holder about a third off the cost of bus travel. These travel passes can also be used on some train services.

Over 16s in further education may be able to access free or subsidised transport to and from school or college too. Contact your local authority or college for more information and guidance on accessing this.

Free transport to school is provided to learners in Wales up to year 11 age, if they live a certain distance away from their nearest suitable school. That distance is at least two miles for primary students and three miles for secondary.

Contact your local authority for more information on this.

Some primary and secondary school pupils qualify for free school transport, if they live certain distances away from their nearest school. Credit: PA Images
  • Books and Resources

The Pupil Development Fund mentioned above can be used to buy equipment that isn't provided by your child's school.

Every pupil in Wales aged between 3 and 16 is entitled to a free book as part of a scheme run by Books Council of Wales. Primary schools distribute books to pupils and if your child is secondary school age, they should receive a token to exchange for a book.

Free software and apps to help with your child's learning can also be accessed via the Hwb website. Your child should have a Hwb account where they can access these educational resources.

Hwb accounts automatically give the pupil free access to Microsoft Office tools including Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

  • Other Financial Help

There is an Education Maintenance Allowance Fund that gives eligible 16 to 18 year olds studying in further education a weekly payment of £30. The money is designed to help with costs like transport and meals.

Payments are made fortnightly but rely on your child meeting the school or college's attendance, performance and behaviour requirements. Student Finance Wales has more information on how to apply and access this money.

From this September, a pilot resource means 16 to 18 year olds in school, college or on an apprenticeship can access free Welsh lessons. The resource will be provided by Say Something in Welsh and the National Centre for Learning Welsh.

For more information on this, contact your child's school, college, or apprenticeship scheme provider.