Tackle ‘holiday hunger’ with year-round school meals

First scheme in UK to provide free school meals 365 days a year aims to wipe out ‘holiday hunger’

New figures show the number of pupils who received free meals during the summer holidays

Participation in a scheme designed to wipe out holiday hunger by serving a free school meal every day of the year has more than doubled this summer.

North Lanarkshire Council’s Club 365 is an audacious attempt to wipe out child hunger in one council area, and thought to be a UK first: as of April 2019, North Lanarkshire Council plans to deliver free meals for schoolchildren every day of the year, including weekends and Christmas Day.

This summer – having piloted the scheme over the Easter holidays at four venues – the council took the next step towards that goal, by offering a holiday club that includes a free meal at nine venues in Coatbridge, Bellshill and Wishaw.

Early figures show that this expansion of Club 365 has resulted in participation more than doubling since Easter and that attendance has also increased at the original four clubs by around 20 per cent. An average of 124 children attended Club 365 over 17 days of the summer holiday, as compared to an average of 55 per day over the Easter break.

Tes Scotland is the only media outlet to be given access to the scheme to date, visiting the four Coatbridge clubs.

Isabelle Boyd, the council’s assistant chief executive responsible for education and a former secondary headteacher, is in no doubt that there is a very real need for this service.

She said: “When I was visiting a hub during Easter, there was a child aged about 7 who asked every 10 minutes, ‘When is lunch?’ That child was actually hungry. In 2018 in Scotland, that’s a disgrace.”

The clubs were not just about food though, she said. “The children do rock climbing and have pyjama parties. It’s not a soup kitchen, it’s a holiday club, and when they are there they have their lunch.”

During the Easter break, the clubs ran for three hours but that has been cut to two hours over the summer.

It was not about the money, said Alan Henry, the education officer responsible for Club 365. If the children attend for more than two hours, the provision then falls under the auspices of the Care Inspectorate. That would mean jumping through a lot more hoops, and the capacity was not there.

However, Professor Greta Defeyter, an expert in breakfast clubs and “holiday provision”, told Tes Scotland that the optimum period to make an impact was four hours. Her team did not talk about “holiday hunger”, she explained, but rather provision. Because when it came to mitigating against the dip in attainment after the summer break, which was particularly pronounced among disadvantaged pupils, a multifaceted approach was best. The children needed nutritious food but also to be active and stimulated, she said

Nevertheless, she described the team at North Lanarkshire Council as “pioneers” and Club 365 as “fantastic”.

Ms Boyd said the council had set aside £1.5 million for Club 365 in this financial year but she did not expect to spend that amount, given that the Scottish government – through the money set aside for the Attainment Challenge – had agreed to fund the activities on offer at the clubs up to a maximum of £414,000.

Ms Boyd said: “When these kids come back after the summer and the teacher says, ‘Write about what you did during the holidays’, they will have loads of things to say. Previously, that probably would not have been the case.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 27 July edition of Tes Scotland. Subscribers can read the full article hereTo subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.

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