MORE than a quarter of all the children in Barnsley are eligible for free school meals – a record number in the last decade.

Department for Education figures show there were 10,238 school children in Barnsley meeting the eligibility criteria for free school meals at the start of the year, equivalent to 29 per cent of all pupils in the area.

It was the highest number on record since 2015 – almost a decade ago.

However, in Barnsley, just 79.9 per cent of the eligible pupils were in receipt of free school meals.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust charity, said: “It’s appalling that there are record numbers of children eligible for free school meals, indicating rising poverty.”

He warned the true need for free school meals goes far beyond current eligibility criteria.

The figures also show not every child eligible for free school meals received them.