Free school meals for all?

Free school meals for all?

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has announced a £130m scheme to provide all London primary-aged pupils with free school meals during the 2023/24 academic year. The plan, which will provide a lunchtime meal to around 270,000 pupils across the capital, will save families around £440 per child across the year at a time when living costs are increasingly challenging. The universal approach takes away the potential barrier of current eligibility criteria for free school meals, which can see working families in poverty not able to access the support they need for their children.

As well as the clear financial benefits of Sadiq Khan’s scheme, teachers and leaders will recognise the wider positive impact of a universal scheme such as this. Hungry children cannot learn so this universal scheme is vital for ensuring all children are able to access learning and be successful. Individual pupils or families will not feel the stigma that can be felt around claiming their entitlement and shared dining experiences for pupils can provide key opportunities for interaction, discussion and wider social development.

There will be some questions that remain, including how funding will look in reality for individual schools: school leaders will want reassurance that the true cost of the meals will not place additional pressures on already stretched budgets. Schools may also need support with practicalities in delivering the scheme around dining hall space, timetabling and kitchen capacity.

SSAT fully welcomes the scheme and supports the Mayor of London in his plan to help children and families in this way. However, this only highlights the need for true universal entitlement: every pupil in every area of England should be able to receive a free school meal. We urge the Government to take notice of Sadiq Khan’s plan, and the work within the devolved nations, to take meaningful, considered and fully funded action to address this at a national level.

Free school meals for all.

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