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College sector delights in free school meals victory

The FE sector has welcomed news that disadvantaged students in further education and sixth form colleges will be eligible for free school meals under new plans unveiled by the Liberal Democrats yesterday afternoon.

Free meals are currently available only for eligible students at school sixth forms, but deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced the coalition will end the anomoly by extending the scheme to colleges.

The news was welcomed by the Association of Colleges (AoC), which has been pushing for the change as part of its No Free Lunch? Campaign.

More than 10,000 people signed the AoC’s e-petition calling for the change on the 10 Downing Street website, among them a number MPs including former education secretary David Blunkett.

Martin Doel, AoC chief executive, said: “This is great news and something we have been working towards for some years.

“[It] ddresses an indefensible disparity affecting disadvantaged 16 to 18-year-olds choosing to study at a further education or sixth form college instead of remaining in a school sixth form.”

Some 103,000 college students from poorer backgrounds are expected to be eligible for free meals.

Mr Doel added: “It marks the end of a fundamental funding anomaly that saw students penalised based on their choice of academic institution and is a clear sign that the government is serious about creating a level playing field between colleges, sixth form colleges and schools.

“We look forward to seeing the finer details about the funding arrangements in the autumn statement.”

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers also welcomed the news.

Its general secretary, Mary Bousted, said: “We have campaigned for free meals for disadvantaged 16 to 18 year-old college students, and hope this means that from next September they will no longer have to go without lunch to be able to afford their fares to college.”

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