All primary pupils in London schools are going to get Free School Meals from September 2023 according to an announcement from the Mayor of London on Monday.
This new policy will cost £130 million, save the average family £440 a year and benefit around 270 000 children.
In an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme (20/02/2023) Henry Dimbleby, former head of the government’s national food strategy, explained the benefits of universal free school meals and the ideological barriers which have prevented this policy being enacted at a national level.
Trials had been done under the Labour government way back in 2013 in some local authorities including Newham, Durham and Islington which revealed that providing universal free school meals to all pupils significantly improved the academic performance of children who had previously been on free school meals, but the the performance of ALL children improved.
Those who had previously been on free school meals saw the most academic improvement, one theory for this change being that when ALL pupils can access free school meals it changes the culture of the school, removing the stigma of poverty at mealtimes and thus makes poorer students feel more included.
What about the rich kids who don’t need free school meals?
All children already benefit from free education which includes access a whole range of other material resources such as text books, so adding on free school meals isn’t that big a deal!
There is also evidence that all children benefit from this policy and it closes the inequality gap: A more recent study from Sweden showed that the introduction of universal free school meals improved the lifetime income of poorer students by 6% and the richest people’s only rose by 2%
The biggest drag on our economy is long term sickness, and the biggest cause of this is poor diet.
Why don’t we have free school meals in England?
According to Henry Dimbleby the current Tory government are ideologically opposed to universal benefits and this is the main reason we do not have free school meals for every child in England and Wales.
Both Nick Clegg and Michael Gove were in favour of universal free school meals when we had a coalition government, but since then neoliberal ideology means the government isn’t prepared to find the money to care for the poorest children in society.
This material is relevant to the compulsory education aspect of the AQA’s first year of A-level sociology.
It is especially relevant to the topic of social class differences and education, as universal free school meals seem to be one of the most effective policies which can reducing the effects of material deprivation on educational achievement.
It is also a reminder of the continued harms of neoliberal education policy.
Sources/ Find out More
The Guardian (20/02/2023) London to offer free school meals to all primary pupils for a year.
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