Hungry for school meals

Younger children will be entitled to free school meals from next year.
Younger children will be entitled to free school meals from next year.

Government plans for free school meals for all infant pupils have been welcomed with open arms in Kirklees.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg last week announced plans for an extra £600 million to be pumped into free school meals for children in reception, Year 1 and Year 2, which he believes will boost attainment and attendance.

It is estimated the move could save parents around £400 per child per year.

Last year 14,684 children claimed school meals in Kirklees, almost twice the number of those in neighbouring Wakefield.

The council could not yet give figures as to the number of extra pupils who would be entitled to the free meals should the plans go ahead, but teaching groups in Kirklees are already praising the idea.

Howard Roberts, from Kirklees branch of the National Union of Teachers, said: “We believe that a nourishing, good quality meal is essential for children to be able to learn – you can’t be taught if you are hungry.”

“There are some children who go to school without having had any breakfast, and this is the only proper meal they will get all day.

“Is it a school’s responsibility to feed children? Probably not. But is it the sensible thing to do? The answer is definitely ‘yes’.”

Free school meals were part of recommendations by of a recent national school food review on behalf of the Department for Education. It concluded that packed lunches were nearly always less nutritious than a cooked meal.

But some parents disagree, and claim that giving their child a packed lunch is the best way to monitor what they are eating.

Readers have been emailing and Tweeting us their views. Viki Harper said: “If schools are going to supply free meals, they should be free for all.

“I can’t afford to pay for school meals for my son and supplying him with a packed lunch is the best way I can judge what he eats, and how much he eats.” Leanne Hepworth said: “I give my kids sandwiches – I know what they’re eating then. Wouldn’t the money be better spent on OAPs who have to choose between heating and eating?”

But Michela Holroyd said: “I think it’s a great idea, as it is open to all children from five-seven, so there is no arguing over who qualifies and, no matter what’s going on at home, at least the child is having one meal a day.”