A funding anomaly which has left tens of thousands of poor teenagers missing out on free lunches is to be debated by MPs.

Former education secretary David Blunkett, who has secured the debate, said the disparity meant that youngsters across the country are losing out because they attend college rather than school.

The irregularity means that 16 to 18-year-olds who would be offered free school meals if they were studying at a school sixth form or academy miss out if they go to college.

College leaders have launched a campaign to end the practice, which they said is "unfair and discriminatory" and are calling for all disadvantaged teenagers to be offered free meals, regardless of where they study.

Blunkett, Labour MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, said: "This flagrant disparity means that students in my constituency at Sheffield College and Longley Park Sixth Form College, and across the country, are missing meals because of the educational path they have taken.

"There are three times as many students eligible for free lunches who are studying in college rather than school sixth forms. This means the majority of eligible teenagers are missing out.

"For these hard-working students to be denied access to free meals because they have chosen further education that will benefit both them and the country is inherently unfair. It is not only a bar to social mobility but also an inequality and unfairness that could mean teenagers going hungry."

The debate is due to be held in the Commons on Wednesday morning.

The Association of Colleges (AoC), which is leading the No Free Lunch? campaign, said more than 100,000 students are missing out each year.

It added that there are three times as many college students eligible for the dinners than are eligible at state school sixth forms.

AoC chief executive Martin Doel said: "For a modest amount, in the context of the department's overall budget, students from some of the most vulnerable areas of society could depend on at least one decent meal a day."

The Department for Education (DfE) has said that it recognises the concern caused by the anomaly and is looking into the situation.


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