Children from low income families will be more ‘ready to learn’ thanks to the expanded free school meals programme.
That is the view of educationalists, parents and children’s charities, who welcomed the decision to offer free school meals to Primary 4 pupils.
Children in P1-3 already benefit from free school meals, regardless of their family income. Children in P4 will receive free school meals from the beginning of the new term this month, and P5s will be added to the scheme from January 2022.
This follows a commitment of £28 million funding from the Scottish Government.
Full tummies boost learning outcomes
Highland Council education chairman John Finlayson highlighted the educational benefits of the programme. “I am delighted that more children in our schools will now have universal access to a healthy meal when they are at school, at no cost to their parents or carers,” he said.
“It is important that our pupils have access to nutritious food for their overall health, and it will be very beneficial in the classroom as a good meal will support the learning and development of each child.”
Parent groups also highlighted the link between full tummies and successful learning. Jason Hasson, Chairman of the Highland Parent Council Partnership said: “This is a positive step forward. It will help with attainment and concentration, which in turn will make the learning experience even better.”
Anne-Marie Coghill, Chairwoman of Noss Primary School Parent Council, added: “I gratefully welcome the free school meals extension. Our schools provide a fantastic holistic education. The provision of a nutritious meal ensures our children have both the mental and physical energy to learn.”
Closing the gap
Free school meals are seen as one way of tackling the attainment gap, in which children from disadvantaged backgrounds receive poorer educational results than those from more affluent homes.
Children from low income families can already access free meals regardless of age. The annual School Healthy Living Survey shows that 38% of pupils were registered for free school meals in 2020. However, stigma remains a challenge.
The charity Children 1st believes that expanded universal provision is “an important move” in destigmatising free school meals. Their Parentline service fields calls from parents concerned with a range of challenges, including financial worries.
“Having enough to eat is the most basic of our human needs and many parents can feel distressed or anxious when they are unable to provide that for their children,” said the charity’s Chief Executive, Mary Glasgow. “Children can’t learn when they are hungry, or if they are worried about whether there’ll be any food in the fridge when they get home from school.
“The pandemic has resulted in many families across Scotland facing financial insecurity and money worries for the first time. Extending free school meals for more younger children is an important move.
“In doing so, the Scottish Government is progressing children’s rights, removing the shame and stigma associated with free school meals and making sure that more children are ready to learn.”
- Children 1st Parentline can provide free financial, practical and emotional support. Phone 08000 28 22 33 or visit the website.
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