“Our free school dinners scheme was right”: Newham Council

Newham Council bosses say Nick Clegg’s announcement that infants will get free school meals vindicates its scheme for all primary school children.

The authority uses £4.7million of its own annual funds to deliver a programme across 62 primary schools to benefit around 5,000 children. It provides free meals for all primary school children from year 1 to year 6 with 90 per cent of all those eligible taking it up.

The council rolled out the scheme as a government pilot in 2009 but also continued to support and safeguard it after the coalition cut funding.

It was based on evaluation of the pilot by the Department of Education that clearly showed significant progress in attainment for those taking part.

Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, said: “The evidence from our free school meals programme is overwhelming –it benefits school children and their families and saves hard-working families more than £500 per child.”

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“The Government has done a complete u –turn after initially scrapping programme without proper evidence.

“Their commitment to fund free school meals for reception, year 1 and year 2 does not go far enough and is still selling children short.”

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St Luke’s C of E Primary School in Canning Town is one of the schools that has benefitted from the scheme.

Theresa Aanonson, head teacher, said: “We have moved from a position where staff spent valuable teaching time checking that pupils were given a healthy packed lunch to a position where we can be confident that almost all our pupils eat a balanced, healthy and varied lunch every school day. We are no longer looking in packed lunch boxes to only see two pieces of dry bread which was one of our most worrying observations.”

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