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Help with school costs

This advice applies to Scotland

This information applies to Scotland only

Who is eligible for financial help

As a parent or person with parental responsibilities for a child you may be entitled to certain types of financial help depending on your financial circumstances. If your child is at a private school you will have to approach the school to find out if any financial help is available.

This information covers benefits available for children attending schools maintained by education authorities. It does not cover private sector schools.

Who provides financial help

If your child attends a state school the local authority education department has to provide certain kinds of financial help for families in particular circumstances.

Local authorities must publish information on their policies and arrangements for providing grants and allowances for school children. The local authority must provide a contact address for you to find out further details of benefits and eligibility. For details, contact your local education authority.

School meals

Education authorities are not obliged to provide school meals. However, schools must provide facilities for children to eat packed lunches and must provide free school meals to certain children.

There are no controls over what a school can charge for meals but it does have to abide by the rules for free meals.

Schools either provide a set menu, usually with some choice, or operate a cafeteria system where children choose food up to the value they wish to spend. Most secondary schools now run a cafeteria system.

Although a choice is normally given, even on a set menu, children on special diets for medical, cultural or religious reasons may have problems with the content of meals. If you feel your child is not getting a proper choice, you should first discuss this with the school, and if this does not resolve the problem, take it up with the local authority. Schools are required to comply with the National Nutrient Standards set down by the Scottish Government.

Free school meals

Education authorities must provide a free midday meal to a pupil whose parents (or the pupils themselves) are in receipt of:-

  • income support; or
  • an income-based jobseeker's allowance; or
  • employment and support allowance; or
  • universal credit, but from 1 August 2017 if the qualifying benefit for free school meals is universal credit a new income threshold of £610 in the assessment period is being applied for single people or in the combined income of a couple or the child themselves, and this would make the child ineligible for a free school meal; or
  • support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999; or
  • child tax credit only and with an income of less than a specified amount; or
  • both child tax credit and working tax credit if specified income and employment conditions apply.

In addition, if a household receives working tax credit in addition to child tax credit but a member of the family has stopped work or reduced working hours special rules about free meals apply. You should get advice about this from a Citizens Advice Bureau because it is complicated - where to get advice.

All children in the first three years of primary school are entitled to free school meals. Children who are over 2 years and are receiving free early learning and childcare are eligible for free school meals. 

School meals grant

If you are a student in higher education with dependant children you may be entitled to a grant from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland towards the cost of school meals for your children.

For more information on the school meals grant see, Student Awards Agency guide to support for students in higher education.

School milk

Education authorities are not obliged to provide school milk. Each authority sets its own policy on whether or not to provide milk.

If an education authority provides milk, it must be provided free to your children if you receive income support or income-based jobseeker’s allowance.

School clothing

All local authorities in Scotland provide help with the costs of school clothing for families on low incomes. 

The Scottish Government has announced that a new £100 national minimum school clothing grant will be available to all eligible families across Scotland, regardless of which area you live in. Details of how to claim are not yet published but the grant will be available in time for the start of the 2018/19 academic year. Eligibility for a grant will be decided by your local authority. You can find out more about school clothing grants and how to contact the relevant department of your local authority on the website.

Even if you do receive a grant, this may not cover all of the costs of school clothing. There may be other sources of help, for example, in some areas there are School Clothing Banks or other charities that can provide help with school clothing for families on low incomes.

School transport

Education authorities must provide transport, or help with the cost of transport, if they consider it necessary to help children get to school.

Education authorities usually provide free transport to pupils who:-

  • cannot walk to school for medical reasons or because they have a disability; or
  • live beyond walking distance of the school - this usually means more than two miles for pupils under the age of eight or more than three miles for pupils aged eight or over; or
  • live within walking distance of the school but without free transport could not reasonably be expected to get to the school.

Some local authorities may have more generous schemes. You should check with your local education authority to find out how your local scheme works.

Free transport can be provided by the local authority providing its own buses or by giving the child a free pass for public transport. Assistance can also be given for help with ferry, taxi or other transport (for example in remote areas or for children with disabilities). Free school transport is not dependent on the parents’ income.

All young people aged 16 to 18 are entitled to reduced fares on buses, trains and ferries in Scotland. To access the scheme, young poeple need to apply for a free National Entitlement Card.

For more information about reduced fares on public transport for young people, see Concessionary fares and young people.

Transport and choice of school

An education authority does not have to provide transport to a school of a parent’s choice if that school is beyond walking distance and a nearer suitable one exists. If the education authority refuses to help with transport costs because of this, you will have to argue the case on the grounds that the nearer alternative school is not suitable.

However, if you choose to send your child to a particular school because of a religious preference, the local authority will usually help with travel costs.

What parents can do about transport

If you are refused help with transport, or if transport is withdrawn, you could try to get the decision changed using the local appeals procedure. The appeals procedure will vary between areas so you should check with your education authority for details.

If a few of you in an area are concerned about lack of transport you may be able to campaign to persuade the authority to provide transport.

Education Maintenance Allowance

If you are 16-19 years old, and studying at school or college beyond school leaving age, and come from a low income household, you may be eligible for financial assistance from an Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).

There is more information about the education maintenance allowance on the website.

Equipment and activities

If an item or an activity is part of the school curriculum, then the school must provide it free of charge. However the school is entitled to charge for articles or materials which pupils wish to keep, for example items of woodwork or cooking.

If you are being asked to pay for something which is part of the curriculum you should approach the school, in the first instance, and then the local authority, to see if the problem can be resolved.

Schools may be able to help with the cost of other activities which are not part of the curriculum, for example, school trips. If you are finding it difficult to meet the cost you should contact the head teacher to see if there is a school fund which may be able to help.

Leaving school but going on to college or university

If you decide to leave school but want to go on to college or university, as long as you have the entrance requirements, you can attend a full-time course at a Scottish college or university and your course fees will be paid for you by the Scottish Government. There are a number of ways in which you can get additional financial help. A leaflet with more information about help for the costs of learning is available on the Scottish Government website .

Special needs at college or university

If you have special needs, for example, you use a wheelchair and are planning to attend college or university you will have to find out what facilities there are. All colleges and universities have to have an accessibility strategy to ensure that they do not discriminate against you on the grounds of a disability.

More about discrimination because of a disability

Other sources of help


If you are finding it difficult to meet the costs of education you should check whether you are entitled to any social security benefits. As well as possibly bringing more money into the household, receipt of a particular benefit is often a condition of getting further help from the local authority.

For a full benefits check, you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

School funds

The school may have funds which can be used for help with certain items, or may keep stocks of second hand uniforms. You should contact the pupil’s school for further information.

Help from charities

Some charities give grants to parents to help with the costs of education. These charities often have a very limited amount of money to give and usually have very specific criteria which must be met in order to get a grant. Although the criteria vary widely, some common examples could be that parents live in a particular area or belong to a particular religion.

If you are a lone parent, you may be able to get money from the Barclaycard Horizons Children's Fund to help with the cost of school uniforms, school trips and day trips. To see if you qualify for help, contact your local CAB, social worker or health visitor. They can apply on your behalf to the Family Welfare Association (FWA) which is running the fund.

You may be able to get information about local charities, and help with applying, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

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