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Added benefits from free school dinners
1:00pm Saturday 28th September 2013 in News
ONE thing a journalist knows about party conference season is that each political party wants to offer some ‘good news’.
The Liberal Democrats took the stage first with the announcement from next September, all primary school children in reception, Years 1 and 2 will get free school meals. For families whose children are eligible, this will amount to a saving of about £400 a year per child.
I observed some chatter about this on Facebook and Twitter. This ranged from support, to downright anger. Phrases like ‘nanny state’ and a ‘lack of trust’ in parents were used.
Some parents were concerned because their schools didn’t have their own kitchens and meals would have to be shipped in.
I actually believe all school children should receive free meals. Healthier eating from an early age has got to save money on health issues 40 years later.
Personally, my children have one school meal a week each at a cost of around £7, as I cannot afford for them to eat hot food at school every day. I’m very careful about the balance of their packed lunches, and they moan about the amount of fruit on almost a daily basis.
Having read this, you may be thinking that I’m in favour of UFSM because I’m lazy or want to save money – and both might be true. Actually, I’m basing my conclusion on a pilot project which was recently discussed by Jemima Lewis in the Daily Telegraph.
Her husband Henry Dimbleby was one of the authors of the School Food Plan, which was the piece of work behind this new move by the Government. Two pilot projects on UFSM took place between 2009 and 2011 in Durham and Newham in East London. Data was collected to see how this affected health and academic performance.
Take-up of meals rose from around 50 per cent in both areas to 72 per cent in Newham and 85 per cent in Durham.
But it was the assessment of academic performance which was the most enlightening. Children moved ahead of their peers, by almost a term.
Even more surprising was the finding that the children who benefited most were from the poorest families – those already eligible for free meals.
With the removal of the stigma of being eligible for free school meals, more were willing to take them up.