Pupils missing out on free school meals
Almost a quarter of a million children registered for free school meals are not receiving them, figures show.
Figures from January show 1,307,455 pupils registered for free school meals, a key measure of poverty.
Of these, 82.7% actually took up the dinners, meaning 225,690 schoolchildren were not eating the free meals for which they were registered.
The Children's Food Trust is calling for action to ensure poor children do not miss out on nutritious school food.
"Their school lunch could be their only proper meal of the day," said Jo Nicholas, of the trust.
The trust's researchers studied local authority data for primary and secondary schools published on the Department for Education website this month.
Ms Nicholas said it was "always a concern to see children living in poverty missing out on a nutritious meal at school, which research shows improves their focus and performance in class".
She added the free lunches were "particularly important when so many families are struggling to make their food budgets stretch".
"We know there are still many reasons why families don't sign up for school meals, and why they don't always opt to take them up once they have registered, but it's so important that schools are getting the help and encouragement they need to do something about this," she said.
"Ultimately, it's about getting the whole school-meal experience right for children, so that every child wants to have school meals, whether they pay or get them free."
The figures showed a slight rise in the number of pupils registered for the meals since January last year. Then, slightly fewer pupils were registered but a greater proportion actually ate them. Last year, some 215,000 missed out.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We want all disadvantaged children to have access to the free nutritious daily meal they are entitled to."
The government's efforts to encourage more parents to sign up for the meals had increased the uptake by 80,000 in the past three years, added the spokeswoman.
"We have written to councils with low take-up to remind them of the responsibility they share with the schools in their area to make sure that every eligible child is signed up," she said.
"We have streamlined the application process so that parents can check their own eligibility and apply online, and published advice for schools on ways to encourage parents to register their child."