Unions, churches and charities add to calls for Scottish Government to deliver on free school meals

September 25, 2013

Letters to Cabinet Secretaries follows Nick Clegg school meals announcement

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), STUC, UNISON and Church of Scotland today join children’s organisations and anti-poverty campaigners in calling for the roll out of free school meals to all Scottish primary school pupils in P1 to P3. The call follows the announcement last week by the Deputy Prime Minister that children in the first three years of school in England will receive a free school lunch from September 2014.

In a letter sent to the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretaries for Finance, Education and Health the organisations say that the UK government announcement “creates a huge opportunity for the Scottish Government to now fulfil its ambition of providing a free healthy meal to all children in P1 to P3”.

The organisations behind the letter, who also include Save the Children, Children 1st, One Parent Families Scotland and the Child Poverty Action Group, go on to urge Ministers to act “as soon as possible to confirm that P1 to P3 children in Scottish primary schools will also now receive a healthy school lunch from September 2014”.

The Scottish Government has a long standing policy objective of moving toward the provision of free school meals to all pupils in P1 to P3. However in their letter the organisations say “it has been a matter of real concern and disappointment that, to date, the roll out of free school meals to all pupils in P1 to P3, as announced by the Scottish Government in 2010, has not yet been fully implemented”.

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. The EIS supports the principle of universal free entitlement to help remove the stigma that some pupils can experience in claiming free school meals. For health reasons, it is vitally important that all pupils across Scotland have access to substantial and nutritionally balanced meals at lunchtimes."

Grahame Smith, General Secretary of the STUC, another leading signatory, said;

“Families across the country are under massive pressures as benefit and tax credit cuts bite, wages stagnate and the cost of food and energy soar. Ensuring children in the early years of primary school all get a healthy free lunch would play a hugely important role in relieving pressure on family budgets, helping make work pay for parents and boosting children’s health and wellbeing.”

John Dickie, Head of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland and a leading member of the Scottish Free School Meals Campaign added,

"Scotland has led the way over the last few years in improving school lunches, piloting and committing to universal school meals in the early years of primary and expanding entitlement. This is now the ideal time for Ministers to take the next step and deliver longstanding commitments to roll out free school meals to all pupils in P1 to P3. Such a move would protect against rising levels of child poverty and food poverty and at the same time ensure all our children are able to get the most out of the school 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]