27/07/2012

Free School Meals Shows Improvement In Diet

A report out today casts new light on the power of school meals to help children reach their potential.

Research measuring the impact of offering free school meals to more children in specific areas of England found significant improvements in their attainment, as well as benefits for diet and take up of healthy school meals.

The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and Bryson Purdon Social Research looked at pilot schemes in Durham and Newham which offered free school meals to all children at primary school, and at a scheme in Wolverhampton to extend eligibility for free school meals to include families receiving working tax credits.

Chief Executive, Judy Hargadon, said: "These findings are serious food for thought. Offering free school meals to every child in Newham and Durham helped to make them more likely to eat a better diet at school, do significantly better in class – with an average of two months more progress by pupils at key stages 1 and 2 – and less fussy about what they ate at home.

"The investment in the pilots is dwarfed by the spiralling costs of poor diet to the NHS and our national spend on efforts to close the attainment gap between children from poorer backgrounds and their peers. What’s particularly interesting is that researchers say the impact on attainment seemed be strongest among those from lower income backgrounds, and those who weren’t doing so well at school before.

"Feedback from parents taking part in the Wolverhampton pilot has also been very positive. That both Wolverhampton and Newham councils decided to continue their schemes beyond the pilot stage and that Durham is now offering school meals at a reduced price – at a time when demand for limited funding is so fierce – is testament to the value they see in good school food to support children, families and schools."

(CD)

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