Free school meals on the menu

8th June 2007 at 01:00
An eating programme to improve pupils' health has been welcomed by teachers' unions

PLANS TO introduce free school meals for all P1-3 pupils in some of Scotland's most deprived areas have been backed by leading teaching unions.

The new SNP-led Scottish Executive wants to see if the scheme improves pupils' health and whether schools can cope with increased numbers taking meals.

The standard requirement is to make fresh fruit available to P1-2 pupils at least three times per week.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, welcomed the pilot as a "sensible start", set at a level which should be manageable and which could also provide useful information on the likely take-up of universal free meals.

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Head-teachers and Deputes in Scotland, also welcomed it - as long as the pilot was "a true test".

The trial, announced last weekend by Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Education, is expected to cost about pound;5 million and will begin in selected schools from October, running until March 2008. Ministers will consider extending the project following the executive's spending review later this year.

The aim is to examine the effect on pupils' health, while also keeping track of eating habits at home, pupils' views on meals, the development of social skills, and practical issues such as school dining halls to provide for more pupils.

News of the pilot came days before the executive's statistics showing a drop in the proportion of those entitled to free meals who took them up, from 68.5 per cent last year to 67.5 per cent. This year's figures show that 16 per cent of all pupils registered for free school meals, down from 16.4 per cent in 2006.

The executive believes the stabilisation of uptake figures is a positive sign.

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