On average, the children of 43% of Spanish families access a school canteen every day. This figure increases to 50% in the case of households with more resources, and drops to 36% for those with lower income, demonstrating that the economic factor is essential when choosing. This is one of the results of the survey ‘The school canteen. The vision of families’ published this Thursday by the childhood NGO Educo, which analyzes access to the dining room and the midday space in public primary schools. Carried out in April 2022, the research has the testimonies of families with children in educational centers throughout Spain.
The “trap” that prevents access to scholarships for textbooks and school canteen due to shared custody
Almost all of the families interviewed agree that there should be a place for all students who want to go to the school canteen, regardless of income level. The statement collides with reality, where about half of the students are excluded: 37% do not access this service due to limited economic resources, while 8% are left out due to the lack of a dining room in the educational center itself. “It is the first condition that must be remedied by the regional governments: extend the school canteen to all public primary education centers,” Educo warns, after specifying that it is above all the smaller centers where this problem occurs.
Despite this, the economic factor is the first factor that families take into account when making the decision. In fact, if the dining room were free, 75% of families indicate that they would bring their children, according to the study. On the other hand, families that use this service “on an occasional basis” (12%), would start doing so every day if the economic barrier that prevents it were eliminated. “The survey shows that families want to take their sons and daughters to the dining room and that, if they don’t, it’s mainly because they don’t have the financial resources to take them,” explains Pilar Orenes, director general of Educo.
In many cases, the possibility of obtaining a scholarship is key when making this decision. In practice, 30% of families that have a dining room in their educational center ask for them. However, only half manage to access them. In most cases, families have seen their requests for public aid denied when they exceed the maximum income level: the scholarships, which reach the most vulnerable households, leave out those who are at risk of being so. Educo points out that in most of the autonomous communities the income level that is set as a maximum is lower than that used to indicate poverty and social exclusion.
“In an economic context like the current one, in which prices have skyrocketed, we are concerned about the situation of families who now, with many difficulties, can afford the dining room expenses, but whose situation may change from one moment to another to because of the escalation of prices”, explains the general director. In fact, among the families that were left out for exceeding the rent limit, almost half have expressed that the price of the dining room represents a “significant economic effort.”
What most worries the organization is the high percentage of families that could not access aid due to lack of information. 4.6% were left out because they requested them after the deadline, while 9.5% directly did not know how to do it. The percentage even rises to 13.51% in the case of the lowest income households. “If a family does not even know how to start the procedures to request help, how are they going to grant it? It is worrying that this is happening, since the processes for requesting dining room scholarships have been in operation for many years in the autonomous communities and, however, they continue to be unknown to a part of the population that could benefit from it,” insists Orenes.
Inequality between communities
The survey also shows wide inequality between regions. In Galicia, 70% of the families that applied for a scholarship during the past school year got it, while in Castilla La-Mancha only 30% received it. In the rest of the communities, as at the state level, the probability of obtaining a scholarship is around 50%.
The situation changes drastically when analyzing the type of aid received. In many communities, partial scholarships are prioritized over full scholarships. In the Community of Madrid, for example, only 2.8% of families received a full scholarship -almost 6% less than the national average-, while in the Basque Country this percentage rises to 19%.
The social value of the dining room
The decision to access the school canteen is made for several reasons, according to the survey. In addition to allowing parents to continue their work day uninterrupted, more than half of the families interviewed believe that the school cafeteria is also important for socializing and learning. In other words, it represents a fundamental part of their children’s education.
37% of families choose to use it because “in the dining room they learn to eat everything and in a healthy way”, while 15% do it so that the children are with their group of peers and 9.5% for the activities that are made during those hours of the day. “The dining room is perceived as a space with guarantees, good food, care and good treatment. It has an impact on well-being for children, but also on eating with colleagues, and enjoying activities”, the report concludes.