July 22 2014 Latest news:
Kay Atwal, Chief Reporter
Monday, July 21, 2014
Schools Minister David Laws joined youngsters for lunch today at one of the schools in Newham which have enjoyed free meals for the last five years.
Mr Laws, who was joined by Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales, visited Tollgate Primary school where almost 100 per cent of the children have free school meals.
He spoke to children about their meals in the run up to September 1 when the government will make free school dinners avialable to all children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2.
Newham took part in a pilot in 2009 to provide free meals to all primary school children and continued to run the project despite the coalition government’s decision to cut funding.
Newham Council uses nearly £6 million of its own annual funds to deliver a programme across 67 primary schools. The Department for Education chose the Plaistow school because it was impressed with its key stage two results, at 90 per cent, which have also increased year on year.
A spokeswoman for the DfE said: “Newham is unique in that it’s a borough with a lot of disadvantaged families so they provide free school meals to every child at primary school. Universal infant free school meals being introduced in September will be for all children in the first three years of primary school but Newham clearly shows the benefit of providing free school meals.
“Positive eating habits help improve concentration and performance in the classroom so these new school food standards will continue to restrict unhealthy foods to ensure our children eat well.
“The evidence is overwhelming that we’ve got far too many kids, who are poor, but not receiving free school meals, who are not getting a good meal at lunchtime and are failing to concentrate in the afternoon. Their education is suffering, and their health is suffering as well, and they are often then on the early steps towards obesity.
”Sir Robin Wales Mayor of Newham said: “In Newham, over the last five years we have been delivering universal free school meals to all our primary school children not just those in the early years. We have continued to fund this initiative without Government’s help and in the face of savage cuts from the coalition Government because it provides vital support to all our children.
“I welcome the fact that the coalition Government has chosen to introduce a free school meals initiative for children in reception, Years 1 and 2 after scrapping the pilot without proper evidence. We hope the overly centralized approach that the coalition Government has taken - failing to provide schools with adequate levels of funding, or support to increase their capacity - does not end up failing the very children they have promised to help,” he added.