Mr Mervyn Storey
Democratic Unionist Party
Tabled Date: 04/09/2013
Answered On Date: 17/09/2013
Priority Written: No
To ask the Minister of Education for his assessment of the educational benefits associated with the provision of free school meals.
Research indicates that nutrition has a key influence on cognitive development and academic performance in children and adolescents and that poor diet is detrimental to children’s learning, concentration and behaviour, in addition to its wider health impacts.
Evaluations of the free school meal pilot initiative undertaken in three local authorities in England between 2009 to 2011, Kingston Upon Hull’s “Eat Well, Do Well” initiative in 2008 and the “Feed Me Better” campaign by Jamie Oliver in 2004/05 highlight the improvements in concentration, behaviour and in some cases in educational attainment which were achieved as a result of the provision of healthy school food, including free school meals.
The school meal can contribute to around one third of a child’s daily food intake. For children and young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, who are more likely to be at greater risk of having a poor diet, free school meals can make a vitally important contribution to their nutritional requirements.
I consider that the provision of healthy free school meals is necessary to address the particular challenges that these children face in accessing and participating fully in school life, in improving their learning outcomes and ultimately lifetime opportunities. This also contributes to the statutory target, which falls on each Department, to take action to eradicate child poverty here by 2020 and to the wider Programme for Government Commitment to tackle disadvantage.
Consequently, I indicated in June my intention to apply the same eligibility criteria for free school meals for both primary and post-primary pupils from September 2014. This means that post-primary pupils from the lowest income families will be supported with access to free school meals in the same way as primary pupils. It is estimated that this will benefit 15,000 children.