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School time should be a chance for children to learn, not to worry about hungry tummies

School time should be a chance for children to learn, not to worry about hungry tummies
3 min read

Shadow Minister for Public Health Sharon Hodgson MP says that a new report further illustrates the health benefits that universal free schools meals have on children's education.

From start to finish the school day is about preparing children and young people for the world ahead of them, and within that time period, ensuring that they are ready and able to learn; yet, having a hungry tummy will be detrimental to all of that.

That is why over the last 10 years, I have banged the drum for universal free school meals which are hot, healthy and nutritious, because of the importance they can have on a child’s education, health and wellbeing and also their behaviour and readiness to learn.

There is evidence out there that has shown this to be the case, including reports cited in the School Food Plan, by John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby, and also the evaluations of the pilots in Durham and Newham which showed the benefits of universal free school meals.

Now, we can add to this growing roster of reports with the latest research conducted by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), in partnership with the Lead Catering Association in Education (LACA), which has evaluated the Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) policy introduced in 2014.

The EPI’s report illustrates the many benefits of Universal Infant Free School Meals, including children’s taste buds being exposed to new foods which has led them to be more likely to try new foods and have far healthier and balanced meals. This improvement in health was noticed by school leaders, with 30% of those surveyed reporting an improvement in overall health of pupils since UIFSM was introduced.

There are also many other benefits, including a marked improvement in a child’s readiness to learn and progress in class, a move towards “family dining” at lunchtime with parents noticing children having better social etiquette at the dining table as well as parents noticing an improvement in their pocket now that they are not paying for school meals. Another important improvement is the stigma has gone; the value of this should not be underestimated.

All of this evidence shows how much this policy should be welcomed, and all the work that has gone into making it such a success by all school staff, from the Headteacher to the school catering team, should be acknowledged.

It is important to keep up the efforts to maintain this policy and the benefits it has on a child’s life and this report will be a brilliant resource to direct detractors to when they try to undermine it because they fail to understand how transformative it can be to a child’s life. 

Sharon Hodgson is the Labour Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West and is Shadow Minister for Public Health

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