7 ways to ease back-to-school worries
As families get ready for the start of a new school term, many will be worried about the cost of living crisis.
But there is support available for learners and their families in Wales who may be struggling to afford school costs such as uniform, meals and transport, as well as some free schemes to help your child with their learning.
7 schemes families may be eligible for:
School Essentials grant
School children (from reception to year 11) who are currently eligible for free school meals can apply for a grant towards school uniform, sports kit and equipment.
The grant is £125 per child, with learners entering year 7 being entitled to £200 to help with increased costs associated with starting secondary school.
All looked after children qualify for the grant, whether they receive free school meals or not.
The 2023 to 2024 scheme is now open.
Free school meals
Universal primary free school meals are currently being rolled out across Wales, starting with the youngest learners in our primary schools. As part of the Co-operation Agreement with Plaid Cymru, all primary school pupils will receive a free school meal by September 2024.
Children in secondary school may be able to get free school meals if their parents or carers receive benefits such as Universal Credit, Income Support, Child Tax Credit or Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Free school meals are available to eligible pupils who attend school full-time. This includes sixth form pupils.
Families need to apply for free school meals, so it’s important to check eligibility.
Children may be entitled to receive a free breakfast in primary school, if the school they go to is maintained by the local authority and if it provides free breakfasts.
Education Maintenance Allowance
16 to 18-year-olds who want to continue in education could be eligible for Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). This is a weekly payment of £40 to help with the costs of further education, such as transport or meals.
Payments are made every fortnight and can be for academic or vocational courses.
Student Finance Wales has more information on the Education Maintenance Allowance and how to apply.
Help with transport costs
Further education students studying at either their local school or college, may be able to get help with transport costs.
Free Welsh lessons
Free Welsh lessons are available for 16 to 18-year-olds who attend school, college or an apprenticeship scheme, to improve their Welsh language skills.
It’s part of the plans in the Welsh Government’s Co-Operation Agreement with Plaid Cymru to give 16-25 year olds, as well as all teaching staff, access to free Welsh lessons with the National Centre for Learning Welsh.
On-line and face to face courses are available, as well as self-study digital resources, as part of a wide package of training for 16 to 18 year olds, whether they are in education or not.
Those who will be eligible to access the courses can get more information from their school, college, or apprenticeship scheme provider, or through the portal for young people on the National Centre’s website.
Free Office 365 licences
Hwb is a website with lots of free apps and software which help pupils learn. All teachers and learners have a Hwb account which gives them access to educational resources and digital tools.
One of the features of Hwb accounts is an automatic, free Microsoft Office 365 licence, allowing pupils to access and install the latest Microsoft Office tools including Word, Excel and PowerPoint as well as Minecraft: Education Edition.
The licence can be used for free across up to 15 home devices including tablets and smartphones as well as desktop computers and laptops.
Financial Contingency Fund
The Financial Contingency Fund provides financial support for eligible learners at Further Education colleges. It can be used for childcare costs, transport, meals, course equipment, learning materials and field trips.
The Minister for Education and Welsh Language has announced a 6.5% increase to the fund for 2023/24, to help alleviate some of the issues faced by vulnerable learners in the cost-of-living crisis.
Those who would like to apply for support can get more information from their college.