Free school meals for primary school children

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All children in the first three years of primary school will be given free school meals from next September, in a £600 million giveaway, regardless of their parents’ income.

Free primary school meals for all pupils was one of the recommendations of a recent review of school food by two founders of the Leon restaurant chain for the Department for Education.

It concluded that packed lunches were nearly always less nutritious than a cooked meal, and that giving all children free lunches would raise academic standards.

There have been several pilot studies on free school meals and researchers analysing the outcomes last year claimed that a free meal for all helped to narrow the divide in the achievement gap between rich and poor pupils.

Supporters argued that children with a regular healthy meal were more likely to be able to concentrate, get better academic results and were less likely to be obese. It's a public health approach, covering everyone for the long-term benefit.

The new policy does not ban packed lunches, but the aim is that having the hot, free option, will boost the numbers of pupils having school dinners.

Henry Dimbleby, who carried out a review of school meals for the Government, said: "It completely changes the culture in the school, it creates a one-school culture where all teachers and children eat together, rather than 'us and them’.”

Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, said:  "My ambition is that every primary school pupil should be able to sit down to a hot, healthy lunch with their classmates every day.

"We will start with infant school pupils because teaching healthy habits young, and boosting attainment early, will bring the biggest benefits."

The move was welcomed by the National Union of Teachers, who called for it to be extended to all primary school pupils.

At the moment free school meals are available to all children whose parents are on benefits or earn less than £16,190 a year. Providing them for all infants will cost an estimated £600m and comes after the previously universal child benefit was cut for those earning more than £50,000 a year.

School Leadership Today
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