The government has announced that it is dropping plans for primary school children from low income working families to receive free school meals. In the same letter, Education Minister Michael Gove also announced cuts to pilot projects to provide free school meals to every primary school child in five local authorities.
About a 18 months ago I joined the governing body of Ferry Lane Primary School, which is based on the Ferry Lane estate in Tottenham Hale. The school is racing up through the results and ratings, after a dismal Ofsted report a few years ago. Most of our kids speak English as their second language; we have huge Turkish and Somalian communities on the estate, which is where most of our kids live. Most of our kids also recieve free school meals.
I was elected Chair of the Curriculum Committee about a year ago, and consequently have responsibility for the oversight and implementation of how and what the kids are taught. There is often such an emphasis on statistics and results that you can be blindsided and forget to look at the children and families behind the numbers. With our school, statistical anomalies can often be explained by the teachers because they know the children, the families and the communities, which is one of the reasons I love being involved. The school engenders a real sense of community, and the facilities are used by a wide number of different groups from the estate.
I know first hand how important it is for the children to be guaranteed one hot, healthy meal a day. It not only allows them to concentrate better, but also provides them with a sense of security. They know their school is looking after them, as well as just being somewhere they have to attend. Now that school meals meet the new nutritional standards, ensuring that children eat them has a number of health and education benefits. These include improving classroom behaviour, helping develop healthy eating habits and encouraging children to try new foods. These benefits are particularly important for children from the most disadvantaged homes.
For years, campaigners including the Children’s Food Campaign have been highlighting the injustice that many children living in poverty fail to qualify for free school meals. The decision to extend eligibility for free school meals to primary school children from low income working households, announced by the previous government in December 2009, went some way to addressing this. This change in policy represents a backwards step.
Poverty in working households is a big problem: currently, 60 per cent of children living in poverty have at least one parent in work. Abandoning plans to provide free school meals to these children, will have consequences which we will see reflected in the results and statistics.
All of these reasons are why I'm asking you to take five minutes and send an email or letter to Education Minister, Michael Gove MP, in opposition to these cuts, which will see some of the UK’s poorest children losing out.
You can send your message by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by post to:
Rt Hon Michael Gove MP
Secretary of State for Education
Great Smith Street
Template letter (from the Children School Meals campaign)
Dear Mr Gove,
I am writing to ask you to reconsider your recent decision which drops plans to extend free school meal eligibility to primary school children from working families with a household income of less than £16,190.
There is good evidence of the health and educational benefits of school meals, including improving classroom behaviour and helping children develop healthy eating habits which will stay with them for the long term.
Sixty per cent of children that live in poverty have at least one parent in work. Failing to provide these children with a free healthy school meal is very likely to discourage parents from getting work, as school meals currently cost families around £300 per child each year.
Going ahead with the planned extension of eligibility for free school meals to primary school children from low income working families would have lifted 50,000 children out of poverty, and made a significant contribution to reducing health and educational inequalities.
While I am well aware of the pressures to reduce public spending, I urge you to reconsider these cuts in the light of your government’s promise to protect the country’s poorest families from their worst effects.