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More free school meals mooted as part of child health strategy

More pupils could get free school meals if the law were changed to allow local authorities greater freedom in the way they run their services, says Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary.

The minister has also called for more areas to offer healthy lunches.

The school food plans are part of the Government's new child health strategy. In the document, which sets out funding priorities, Mr Balls repeats his intention to pilot universal free school meals in some areas and carry out research to see if it helps children's performance at school.

Currently, local authorities legally have to charge all pupils the same price for the same meal. This prevents them from starting their own schemes to alter the cost of the food for families or offer more free meals. The Government now plans to consult on whether the law should be changed to allow regional variations.

Healthy Lives, Brighter Future: The Strategy for Children and Young People's Health, which was unveiled last week, also says teachers should play a greater role in promoting wellbeing among their pupils and that school health teams are to be based in every area.

The quality and consistency of personal, social, health and economic education will be improved after plans were announced last year to make PSHE statutory.

Mr Balls also wants to strengthen the national Healthy Schools programme and create a "world class" system of physical education and sport, with five to 16-year-olds doing five hours a week of school sport by 2012. A national competition framework will be created so that more pupils can take part in competitive sport.

The strategy, jointly compiled by the Department of Health and the Department for Children, Schools and Families, says training for teachers, coaches and staff in sports and dance clubs should be improved and they should provide a more "diverse and attractive" range of activities.

Mr Balls also wants more sporting opportunities for gifted and talented pupils and for children with disabilities.

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