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Help with school costs

This advice applies to Scotland

This information applies to Scotland only.

This page covers benefits available for children attending schools maintained by education authorities (state schools). It doesn't cover private schools.

Coronavirus – schools reopening and SQA exams

Schools in Scotland have reopened and pupils should be at school full time.

Check your council website for information on back-to-school arrangements and support for children starting or leaving school. Find your local council on mygov.scot.  

Childminders, nurseries and playgroups can reopen if they choose to do so. This includes childcare for school-age children. Check arrangements with your child's nursery or childminder. 

Find out more about the reopening of schools and early learning childcare settings on the Parent Club website.  

SQA exams in Scotland

Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) exams in Scotland didn't take place in 2020. Grades for Nationals, Highers and Advanced Higher courses were awarded on 4 August.

Some students had their estimated grades lowered by the SQA.  

If your grades were lowered by the SQA, you’ll get new grades based on estimates from your teachers. 

You can read more about exams and appeals on the SQA website.

Coronavirus advice for families

There's more advice for families on the Parent Club website.

Who can get financial help

If you're a parent or a person with parental responsibilities for a child, you may be entitled to certain types of financial help, depending on your circumstances.

If your child is at a private school, you'll have to approach the school to find out if any financial help is available.

Who provides financial help

If your child attends a state school, the local authority's education department has to provide certain kinds of financial help for families in particular circumstances. Other kinds of help are discretionary and depend on local policy. 

Local authorities must publish information on their general arrangements and policies for providing:

  • help with the cost and provision of school meals and milk
  • help with the cost and provision of school transport
  • higher school bursaries
  • other grants.

The local authority must provide a contact address for you to find out more about benefits and eligibility. For details, contact your local education authority.

You may also be able to get benefits or grants from other sources, such as Social Security Scotland, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or charities.

School meals

Education authorities aren't 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.

Schools must describe in their handbooks their arrangements for providing meals, including facilities for eating packed lunches, and how to apply for free school meals.

There are no controls over what a school can charge for meals, but schools do 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 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 isn't getting a proper choice, you should first discuss this with the school. If this doesn't resolve the problem, you should take it up with the local authority. Schools are required to comply with the National Nutrient Standards set down by the Scottish Government.

You can read more about school meals on the Scottish Government website.

Free school meals

All children in Primary 1, 2 or 3 at a local authority school are entitled to free school meals. Children who are over two years old and are receiving free early learning and childcare are also eligible for free school meals. 

A child may be entitled to free school meals after Primary 3 if their family receives certain benefits or is experiencing financial hardship. 

Children getting free meals normally get the same meals as those paying in full. In cafeteria systems, children entitled to free meals can choose food up to a certain fixed cost.

School meals grant

If you're a student in higher education with dependent children, you may be entitled to a grant from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland towards the cost of school meals for your children. You should apply to your education establishment.

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

School milk

Education authorities aren't obliged to provide school milk. Each authority sets its own policy on whether to provide milk.

If an education authority provides milk, it must be provided free to your children if you receive Income Support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) or income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Education authorities aren't allowed to provide free milk to any other group of pupils.

School clothing

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

A £100 minimum school clothing grant is available to all eligible families across Scotland, regardless of which area you live in. Eligibility for a grant is decided by your local authority. You can find out more about school clothing grants on the Scottish Government website.

Even if you 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.

Clothing vouchers

If you're issued vouchers for clothing, it may be difficult to find local shops that will accept them. If this is a problem, you should contact the local authority. The local authority may be able to persuade more shops to accept the vouchers or may decide to issue cash grants instead.

Standard clothing

Some education authorities may provide standard clothing for children. Pupils may find this embarrassing. If you're unhappy with how help with clothing is allocated, you should contact the local authority.

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:

  • can't walk to school for medical reasons or because they're disabled
  • live beyond walking distance of the school (see below)
  • live within walking distance of the school but couldn't reasonably be expected to get to the school without free transport.

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 using 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 disabled children. Free school transport doesn't depend on the parent's or 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 people need to apply for a free National Entitlement Card.

Walking distance

Local authorities usually provide free transport to pupils who live beyond walking distance of the school. The usual definition of 'beyond walking distance' is:

  • more than two miles for pupils under the age of eight
  • more than three miles for pupils aged eight or over.

Authorities can define how far walking distance is, and some authorities may use a more generous definition.

The distance is measured by the nearest available route. When considering what the nearest route is, the local authority should consider the safety of children using the route. If the route is unsafe, the local authority should provide transport. If you're unhappy with the authority's assessment of distance, you may be able to appeal.

Choice of school

An education authority doesn't have to provide transport to a school of your 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'll have to argue that the nearer alternative school isn't suitable.

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 you can do about transport

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

You can read more about EMAs on the Scottish Government website.

Equipment and activities

Activities within the curriculum

If an item or an activity is part of the school curriculum, 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're being asked to pay for something which is part of the curriculum, you should first approach the school, and then the local authority, to see if the problem can be resolved.

Activities outwith the curriculum

Schools may be able to help with the cost of activities which aren't part of the curriculum, for example school trips. If you're finding it difficult to meet the cost, you should contact the headteacher to see if there's a school fund which may be able to help.

Leaving school and 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 the Scottish Government will pay your course fees for you. There are a number of ways in which you can get additional financial help. Read more about help with the costs of learning 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'll have to find out what facilities there are. All colleges and universities have to have an accessibility strategy to ensure they don't discriminate against you on the grounds of a disability. Find out more about discrimination because of a disability.

Other sources of help

Benefits and tax credits

If you're finding it difficult to meet the costs of education, you should check if you're 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.

You may be able to get a one-off grant called the School Age Payment to help with the costs of having a child of school starting age. This is part of the Best Start Grant and is paid out by Social Security Scotland. You need to be on a low income and to apply around the time that your child might normally start school or just afterwards. 

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

School funds

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

Help from charities

Some charities give parents grants 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 you must meet to get a grant - for example, you may have to live in a particular area or belong to a particular religion.

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

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