|Such a shame that my little girls have moved into Key Stage 2 and won't be eligable for free school meals!|
In an attempt to help ease the financial burden on families with young children in England, Nick Clegg has announced free school lunches for every child in state funded infant schools. Influenced by the recommendations of the government commissioned School Food Plan, the new policy entitles every child under 8 to high quality lunches saving parents on average £437 per child over the year.
For years government bodies, health authorities and the media have reiterated the benefits of high quality meals in cognitive development and learning in children. There are numerous reports and studies highlighting the correlation between children eating highly nutritious meals both before and at school leading to an increase in academic performance, healthier eating habits and a reduction in childhood obesity.
Students who were involved in the pilot study in County Durham and Newham provide evidence to support these claims as they were reported to have experienced positive improvements in their health, attainment and social cohesion with the introduction of the universal free school meals. They were found to be on average 2 months ahead of their peers elsewhere in England and were more likely to achieve their target levels at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 in Maths and English. The introduction of universal free school meals within these areas reportedly did more to improve literacy levels than the nationwide introduction of the compulsory ‘literacy hour’ in 1998. Interestingly, the pupils whose results improved the most markedly were children from the poorest households who benefited from the removal of social stigma and an improvement in atmosphere.
Even with the unarguable of pupils eating healthily at school, the introduction of the universal free school meals policy still has its objectors. Although head teachers and local authorities have voiced their support for the introduction of the new policy, there is a growing concern with schools preparing for the launch of the new national curriculum and upgrading their dining facilities that the government has over-promised and under-delivered. Nearly 2700 schools will not be ready to serve hot meals by December with students being offered cold meals until facilities can be upgraded or kitchens built.
The government has made just over £170m available to help schools upgrade their dining facilities to the latest high quality stainless steel kitchens to comply with their stringent health and safety guidelines, but this is reportedly not enough. There is a reported short fall of £25m in cash required to provide free school meals with local authorities diverting funds that were originally earmarked to repair school roofs to plug the shortfall.
At £600m, the overall yearly cost of the universal free school meals policy, may seem quite steep, it is a lot less than the £6bn a year it costs the British tax payer for treating illnesses caused by a bad diet. The introduction of the universal free school meals policy highlights the government’s long term commitment to our children’s learning and welfare as well as easing the financial burden on families. As Nick Clegg states: “Universal free school meals will help give every child the chance in life that they deserve, building a stronger economy and fairer society.”
What do you think of the introduction of free school meals for children under 8? Have your children enjoyed the free meals? All comments are welcome below.