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Report advocates universal free primary school meals

15/07/2013 Joanna
A new report has called for free lunches to be provided for all primary school pupils, which could aid primary teachers in raising their performance in classes.

Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, co-founders of the Leon restaurant chain, were commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) to look into how healthy eating habits could be encouraged among schoolchildren.

Their subsequent report, 'The School Food Plan', contains a range of recommendations for improving dietary habits, including universal provision of free primary school meals, beginning in local authorities with the highest rates of free school meal eligibility under current criteria.

It highlights the positive impacts this has had on eating habits in Finland, as well as in English local authority areas like Durham and the London borough of Newham, where this initiative has already been piloted.

Take-up of school meals rose rapidly in both of these districts, while consumption of vegetables rose and ingestion of soft drinks and crisps fell.

Academic performance also received a boost, with children in the pilot areas two months ahead of their peers elsewhere on average, while a higher proportion of pupils reached their targets at key stages one and two.

Yet while education secretary Michael Gove is said to be supportive of rolling out free school meals to all primary school pupils, the Guardian has quoted DfE sources as stating that the cost of doing so means it is unlikely to happen before 2016 at the earliest.

The report's authors themselves estimate that making free lunches available to all primary school children would raise the annual expense of free school meal provision from £428 million to around £1.9 billion.

Mr Dimbleby and Mr Vincent remarked: "We understand that the considerable cost and the need to involve other departments make it a big ask.

"But we are pleased that the secretary of state agrees with us in principle and we would urge schools and councils to consider funding universal free school meals themselves."

The government is already acting on many of the other proposals contained in the report, such as placing greater emphasis on cooking in the curriculum and setting up more breakfast clubs.

Ofsted has also agreed that its inspectors should observe behaviour and culture in dining halls also assess the ways in which schools promote healthy lifestyles.ADNFCR-2164-ID-801612587-ADNFCR
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