17/09/2013

Call To Extend Free School Meals

Sinn Féin Education spokesperson Chris Hazzard has called for free school meals to be extended for all children attending school.

Speaking in the Assembly, Mr Hazzard said: "In recent years Sinn Féin has worked to increase the number of children entitled to free school meals and indeed the Minister John O'Dowd recently announced that the criteria for attaining free school meals would be standardised across primary and post primary schools.

"This would mean that children entitled to free school meals in primary would carry that entitlement into post primary school.

"Many children were going to school without a proper lunch due to families being unable to either supply a packed lunch or pay for school meals. It is important that children are able to have a healthy meal during their time at school.

"While welcoming the Minister's commitment to date on the issue I am asking him to investigate extending the free school meal system to all children attending school. This would bring equality to the system and ensure that every child would get at least one substantial meal during term time."

On Monday, Education Minister, John O'Dowd, called on all families entitled to free school meals to take up their entitlement.

The Minister was speaking during a debate on free school meal uptake in the Assembly. During the debate, he revealed that almost one in five children who are eligible for free school meals do not avail of them.

He added: "The significance of free school meals must be seen in the context of my Department's overarching goals – 'to raise standards' and 'close the performance gap, increase access and equality'.

"Free school meals support the Programme for Government commitment to tackle disadvantage and close the gap in educational attainment between the least and most deprived communities.

"The particular challenges faced by pupils from lower income backgrounds in accessing, participating in and benefiting from, formal education are well documented and we should not underestimate the impact this can have on children's learning and development, on their educational attainment and ultimately on their lifetime opportunities."

(JP/CD)

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