Appeal to First Minister as free school lunch expectation grows

December 17, 2013

Children’s charities, anti-poverty campaigners, the Church of Scotland and unions representing teachers, caterers and working parents have today appealed directly to the First Minister to confirm that all children in primary 1 to 3 will be entitled to a healthy free school lunch from next year.

In a letter to Alex Salmond the organisations, including Children in Scotland, Children 1st, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), STUC and UNISON tell the First Minister that there is growing expectation that the Scottish Government “must now grasp the current opportunity to deliver on its long standing free school lunch ambitions and commitments”. They say prioritising investment in a free healthy school lunch for pupils in P1 to P3 would provide a “well evidenced, direct and immediate boost to the wellbeing of children and families across Scotland”

The letter follows the UK Autumn Statement announcement that the Scottish Government is to receive £308 million extra spending resource, including consequentials from confirmation that all pupils in the first three years of English primary school will get a free school lunch from September 2014.

The signatories, who also include Shelter Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland, the Child Poverty Action Group and the Poverty Alliance, go on to say that “a universal approach in the early years has been demonstrated to have a positive impact on the take up of healthy school lunches, on children’s readiness to learn and attainment, and on supporting family budgets and home life”.

A universal approach to free school meals in P1 to P3 was announced by the Scottish Government in 2007 and reaffirmed in 2010 following successful pilots across five Scottish local authorities. Councils were later given flexibility on how they rolled out the commitment. However, to date, no local authority has implemented the policy in full, “a matter of real concern and disappointment” according to the free school meal campaigners.

In response to a previous letter from the organisations the Education Secretary said that the UK government had been unable to provide confirmation of consequential funding arising from the its own free school meals commitment and that only following the Autumn Statement “when we see the financial implications for Scotland…..can we then determine how best to further increase eligibility” for free school meals.

Jackie Brock, Chief Executive of Children in Scotland; a signatory to the letter said:

“Children in Scotland have long been supporters of universal free school meals for children from P1 - P3 and we are disappointed that the 2007 commitment of the SNP to deliver this is still not implemented. Children cannot learn effectively or participate in school life if they are coming to school, and remaining, hungry”.

Larry Flanagan, EIS General Secretary, a signatory to the letter, said;

“Ensuring that all pupils in P1 to P3 receive a free school meal would be a significant step, which would aid family budgets, bring important health benefits for young children and help these pupils concentrate on their learning throughout the school day”

John Dickie, Head of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland another signatory to the letter, added;

"The Scottish Government has led the way in piloting and committing to universal free school lunches. The Autumn Statement now provides the financial details Scottish Ministers said they needed before delivering on their long-standing commitment. Prioritising investment in universal free school lunches in primary one to three will provide immediate protection to families against rising levels of child and food poverty and at the same time help ensure all our children are able to get the most out of the school day.”

Satwat Rehman, Chief Executive of One Parent Families Scotland, a leading member of the Scottish Free School Meals Campaign said;

'The benefits of free school lunches are particularly important to children from low income families but poor diet and obesity affects children from all backgrounds. Healthy free school lunches have been shown to help tackle health inequalities, as well as reducing the poverty trap faced by parents trying to move into employment. One Parent Families Scotland wants to see every primary school child receive a free school lunch every day.'

Ends

For further details or comments contact John Dickie, Head of CPAG in Scotland on 0141 552 3656 or 07795 340 618.

Notes:

1. Anti-poverty campaigners, children’s organizations, trade unions and faith groups have long argued that the most effective way of ensuring all children, but particularly those in poverty, receive a healthy school lunch is to move toward a universal, non means tested approach to the provision of healthy lunches in the middle of the school day (see http://www.cpag.org.uk/scotland/school-meals ) .

2. Since 2007 SNP governments have made important progress in increasing the number of children, particularly in primary schools, who receive a healthy school lunch by extending entitlement to those in very low income working families and by enabling local authorities to provide free school meals to all P1 to P3 pupils with a policy objective of moving toward universal free school meals for all in P1 to P3 (For details see see para 3.4 http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2012/06/4917/8#s343 )

3. The SNP government’s pilot trials of universal provision of free school meals to all P1 to P3 pupils in 2007/8 demonstrated a substantial effect on take up of school meals, increasing overall take up by 22 percentage points from 53% to 75%. Furthermore, amongst children already entitled to free school meals take-up rose by 4.4 percentage points[i], and in some areas up to 8.5 percentage points.

4. Further recent research from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex[ii] also analysed the wider impact of the Scottish Government’s free school meal pilots. The paper “attributes the rise in take-up of FSMs by those always entitled to a positive peer effect: FSM-registered individuals became more likely to participate because a greater proportion of other students in the school were doing so….The magnitude of the effect is such that in a typical school a 10 percentage point rise in peer-group take-up would reduce non-participation (ie non take up by those already entitled) by almost a quarter.”

5. Evaluation[iii] of the pilots also pointed to a positive impact on family budgets and the home environment. There was, the evaluation concluded, “…evidence that the trial had impacted positively on the home environment of pupils,” and “.. the simple benefit of increasing disposable income was particularly evident amongst parents with more than one child.”

6. The universal approach has not only been shown to increase take up of healthy lunches and relief to family budgets but also to impact positively on children’s learning experience. Evaluation of a free school meals pilot for primary school children over two years in Hull found a “significant impact in all areas of children's schooling...behaviour, social relationships, health and learning”[iv], whilst more recent evaluation of the provision of free school meals to all primary pupils in Durham and Newham found that “offering free school meals to all primary school pupils increased attainment in disadvantaged areas”[v]

[i]http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2008/10/02082551

[ii] https://www.iser.essex.ac.uk/publications/working-papers/iser/2012-12.pd...

[iii]http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2008/08/29114033/0

[iv]Prof. Derek Colquhoun, Hull Uni, http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1995361,00.html

[v] http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/6278