Free school meals should be extended to all pupils in Dumbarton and the Vale as an “urgent priority” to help tackle poverty levels, a teaching union has said.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) added that expanding the provision to all pupils would be a “lifeline” for many families and described how many parents are regularly going without food so their children can eat.

Currently, children in P1 to P4 at local schools are entitled to free meals, with P5 pupils becoming eligible when lessons resume this week after the festive break.

However, the EIS has written to education secretary Shirley-Anne Sommerville to ask her to “safeguard families from the worst ravages of poverty” and take steps to expand free meals to all school-aged children without further delay.

Larry Flanagan, the union’s general secretary, said: “The EIS welcomes the expansion of free school meals to all primary four children at the beginning of this academic session and the imminent expansion to primary fives but is clear that provision needs to be extended and accelerated to be inclusive of all young people at all stages of school as an urgent priority.

“As the cost of living rises and the economic shocks of the pandemic continue to be felt, many parents – women who are single mothers especially – are going regularly without food in order that their children can eat, both at home and in school.”

Mr Flanagan also highlighted problems with the current mean-tested model of free school meal provision for pupils above P5.

He said many families are unaware of their entitlements to free school meals and are therefore missing out, while others miss out because they fall just below the threshold of entitlement.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have provided funding to support the expansion of free school lunches to primary four and five.

“Ministers are committed to funding the expansion of free school meals to all pupils in primary and special schools during this Parliament.”