For children to learn they must be well fed

Thursday, March 12, 2020

What a sad reflection on the times we live in that there should even have to be a “debate” as to whether schools should provide free school meals to children at Key Stage 1 (Free school meals: should the taxpayer continue to fund them?, 10 March).

Those against, such as Vic Goddard, CEO of a multi-academy trust (note the corporate title with all that implies about the marketisation of the state school system), seem to resort to the “only a limited amount of money in the pot” fatalism, rather than questioning why there is not more money in the pot.

Well-fed children learn more effectively and more effective learning leads to better “results”, thus ensuring that schools make progress in the league tables, something that I’m sure education managers like Mr Goddard depend on for maintaining pupil numbers in their schools, the schools’ ongoing popularity with parents and ensuring more overall revenue.

School governor Andy Jolley stretches credulity when he says that the child of a millionaire could be sitting next to a child living in poverty, his argument for “means testing”, with all the social stigma that would incur. It would be interesting to get some handle on exactly how many children of millionaires are not going to independent, fee-paying schools, but sitting in under-funded, overcrowded state schools while enjoying that free school meal.

The debate around free school meals has been ignited by reports suggesting the universal scheme for infants could be up for review. Yet there is one vital factor that is missing from the debate.

Feeding Britain estimates that about 140,000 children from poorer households, who are entitled to free school meals, are not registered for them. They are therefore losing out on a collective £60m worth of meals each year, in addition to large sums of pupil premium funding to support their education.

Might not the government act first to rectify this injustice, by introducing an automatic registration scheme covering all eligible families, before taking another look at the universal scheme for infants?

Andrew Forsey
Director, Feeding Britain

 I oversaw school dinners for 30 years while a teacher and I was greatly moved by the contribution of Jane Stannard, CEO of the charity School-Home Support, who mentioned a little boy whose only decent daily meal is lunch at school. At home he gets a sandwich which he never cuts in half for fear of wasting the crumbs.

What an indictment of our social system, and what a contrast to the prime minister’s recent black-tie, backslapping, wine-swilling dinner in Downing Street. When, if ever, will the “levelling up” start?

Ken Veitch
Brampton, Cumbria

Source: Guardian News