Is there such a thing as a free school lunch?

15th January 2010 at 00:00

An open letter to Education Secretary Michael Russell and Cosla president Pat Watters.

We are writing to express our deep concern over proposals to scale back the agreed roll-out of free school meals to all P1-3 pupils, as set out in the concordat between the Scottish Government and local authorities.

While we understand the financial pressures authorities are under, we believe a universal approach to free school meals in the early years of primary school plays a key role within wider anti-poverty, early years and health inequality ambitions and should remain of the highest priority, at a time when the economic situation is putting great pressure on family budgets.

The pilots dramatically demonstrated the additional benefit of a universal approach to achieving the policy goals of promoting take-up of healthy school meals, which increased from 53 per cent to 75 per cent.

However, the universal approach also benefits those children already entitled to free school meals where take-up rose by 8.5 percentage points, the pilots showed. They also found that "the simple benefit of increasing disposable income was particularly evident amongst parents with more than one child".

We are concerned that the proposed changes to the concordat redefine expectations of what a free school meal is in relation to the existing commitment. The P1-3 universal free school meals policy was developed, piloted, announced and legislated for on the basis that pupils would receive a nutritious school lunch. While other healthy food initiatives, such as free fruit and breakfast clubs, are extremely welcome, they should not replace the clear commitment given.

While we hope it is still possible to ensure a full roll-out of free school lunches in August 2010, as currently agreed, we would urge that any variation from that timetable is accompanied by a clear revised one by which ministers and local authorities agree all P1-3s can expect a free school lunch.

Signed by representatives from Unison, Educational Institute of Scotland, Church of Scotland, Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, Oxfam Scotland, Scottish Women's Convention, Poverty Alliance, Save the Children Scotland and One Parent Families Scotland.

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