Free school meals work: Teachers want to know if it can be done in London, why not all of England?

12 January 2024, 07:44 | Updated: 12 January 2024, 09:31

Free school meals work: After London extension, NEU asks PM - if it can be done in London, why not all of England?
Free school meals work: After London extension, NEU asks PM - if it can be done in London, why not all of England? Picture: Alamy/LBC
Daniel Kebede

By Daniel Kebede

  • Daniel Kebede is the General Secretary of the National Education Union

The National Education Union were very pleased when London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced this week that Free School Meals for All is being extended for another academic year.

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That’s another year when hundreds of thousands of children will see a boost to their learning, creativity, and well-being. Parents in London won’t have the pressure of making a nutritious packed lunch.

Pupils and school staff can get on with their day, better focused and more fulfilled.

We know that Free School Meals for All works. As a teacher myself, I have seen first-hand the difference that a healthy meal makes to learning.

Our recent study with families and educators in London found that when children eat and socialise together, stigma is reduced. They can engage better throughout the day and know that the same can be true tomorrow, and the day after that.

Parents tell us it’s a weight off their minds. Teachers say that children get much more out of the day. And school leaders report that they’re building stronger relationships with families.

Clearly it works. So we are asking the Prime Minister if it can be done in London, why not in the rest of England too?

We’re living through the worst cost of living crisis in a generation. Millions of families are struggling and there are no guarantees that a packed lunch can be afforded, let alone one that is substantial and nutritious.

No matter what’s happening in the economy, no child in Britain should ever go hungry. We’re leaving a generation behind, and losing out on their potential, their creativity and shortchanging their future health and happiness.

As educators, we believe schools should be places where children can eat together, learn together and grow together.

That’s why at the National Education Union, we’ve been campaigning alongside parents, teachers, MPs, Metro Mayors and 250+ civil society organisations for this programme to be extended nationwide.

Scotland, Wales, and now London for another year — have all pledged to provide free healthy dinners for all children in primary school.

In 2014, the Government made school dinners free in England for children up to year two. We’re simply calling on the Prime Minister to finish the job.

This is about making sure every child has what they need to learn. Lifting every child up so that no child is left behind.

That’s the future we want for our children and our schools.


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