Countdown begins for Free School Lunches

-A package of measures to help support schools to deliver free school lunches to all infant children has been launched by Schools Minister David Laws today.

All infant children in state-funded schools in England will, for the first time, be entitled to a free school meal from September 2014 and the government has set out its plans on how it intends to support schools.

The Deputy Prime Minister last year announced £22.5 million to help small schools prepare. This announcement confirms that each small school will receive a minimum of £3,000 funding to extend or improve kitchen facilities, and address transitional costs, in addition to the £2.30 per child per day revenue funding.

This is a part of the £1 billion that government is providing so that every infant across the country sits down to a healthy meal during the day, as well as £150 million to help schools expand their kitchen and dining facilities, where needed.

Other measures include:

  • a support service, including a national helpline, run by the Children’s Food Trust, to help and support schools across the country – giving advice on the various issues that may arise including visits and one-to-one help where needed
  • support from Magic Breakfast to set up breakfast clubs in schools where children are coming to school hungry
  • support from charities to help increase school meal take-up in 2,000 junior and secondary schools that currently have low take-up

Schools Minister David Laws said:

With 6 months to go, we want to support and encourage all schools to step up their preparations and these extra measures will support them in doing so.

Every child deserves the best possible start in life, and we know from pilots that children in schools that offer universal free school meals are academically months ahead of their peers and also more likely to eat vegetables at lunchtime instead of less healthy food like crisps.

Parents presently spend around £400 for lunches for each child every year and we want to do all we can to help ease the pressure on household budgets – putting money back in families’ pockets.

The Department for Education is also launching a consultation to simplify school food standards – cutting bureaucracy for schools.

The current standards are overcomplicated and can involve schools verifying the amount of nutrients such as zinc and vitamin A that are in meals. The new standards will be simplified and manageable – focusing on tasty healthy meals for all children.

From September, all eligible children will also have access to their free school meal entitlement regardless of whether they attend school, sixth form or college – creating a fair and consistent system across the country.

Henry and John co-founders of Leon Restaurants and co-authors of the ‘School food plan’, said:

School food has come a long way since the dark days of the Turkey Twizzler. For many schools, getting ready for universal infant free school meals will require some tough decisions. But the evidence from past pilots in Newham and Durham show that it can be done and the government measures announced today should make it easier. Now, we all need to support the individual schools and their headteachers on whom successful delivery really depends; excellence does not come about through government decree.

We would urge everyone to read the ‘School food plan’ to learn about the full range of actions underway. Last year, we imagined a new golden age for school food, where well-trained, fulfilled and empowered cooks and caterers serve flavourful, fresh food and it is enjoyed by at least 70% of all pupils. That dream is closer now than we could have hoped. It’s down to all of us to make it a reality.

Headteacher Cal Shaw from Chestnuts Primary School in Haringey said:

The prospect of every infant child in the country getting a free meal at lunchtimes is a great step forward in the battle against childhood obesity and the vital support parents need in these very difficult economic times.

This announcement can only be a good thing for the future of our children.

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