Education leaders from 24,000 schools demand Government action on school meals  


School and education leaders representing more than a million teachers, support staff and others working with children have embarked on a new drive to protect their pupils from the cost-of-living crisis with a letter to Prime Minister Liz Truss demanding Free School Meals are offered to all children in families receiving universal credit in England.  

Teachers say hunger a real issue in classrooms as children fail to thrive.

The demand from the leaders of 12 different organisations follows on from publication of The Food Foundation’s data this week showing a rapidly worsening crisis with almost 14 million people – four million of them children, living in households where lack of food is an issue.

It is also part of the continuing Feed the Future campaign launched this month to highlight the plight of children living in poverty but not currently eligible for free school meals. 

"Hunger is now a real issue in our schools," says the letter which has also been sent to the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and the Education Secretary Kit Malthouse. "We must make sure that every child has the nutrition they need to be able to learn and thrive…. We urge you to act."

The devolved governments of Scotland and Wales are committed to providing Free School Meals for all primary school children, as well as more generous breakfast provision. There has been no such commitment to offer the same opportunities to children in England. In England the threshold to get Free School Meals is a combined household income of less than £7,400 before benefits. 

The current restrictive policy means 800,000 children living in poverty in England are not eligible for Free School Meals. 

Numerous research projects have shown that good diet in childhood improves health, attainment and behaviour at school, as well as boosting lifetime productivity. 1 
There is no other part of the school day where children are means tested to participate and campaigners argue that extending Free School Meal provision would demonstrate the government’s commitment to its levelling up agenda. 

Dr Nick Capstick, Chair of the School Food Review Group and headteacher at a Wiltshire primary school said: “We are now seeing a radical movement from the Just About Managing or JAMs to the “barely surviving families” where food insecurity is a daily challenge and the knock-on effect of food poverty a reality for a whole new cadre of people.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “There is clear evidence that providing children with a nutritious meal at lunchtime helps not only with their diet but also academic performance. Free school meal provision can be a lifeline for families. It is therefore concerning that there are so many children living in poverty that are not currently eligible."

The Food Foundation’s Executive Director Anna Taylor said: “The situation is getting worse by the month and as people struggle to pay their energy bills the crisis will deepen over the winter. It is essential the Government acts now to protect the long-term health and prospects of our children.”