Teachers call on government to extend free school meals so children are not ‘left behind’

Feed the Future: Organisations representing more than one million teachers, support staff and governors tress the need for ‘immediate’ action in letter to the prime minister

Anna Davis
Friday 21 October 2022 11:18 BST
Teachers have called for more free school meals
Teachers have called for more free school meals

Teachers and school staff have urged the government to extend free school meals, saying hunger is now a “real issue” for children.

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Groups representing more than one million teachers, support staff and governors have written a joint letter to the prime minister calling for more children in poverty to qualify for free food.

It comes in the wake of the Independent’s Feed the Future campaign in partnership with a coalition of organisations co-ordinated by the Food Foundation, calling on the government to assuage school hunger by extending free school meals to all children in poverty. There are around 800,000 pupils living in households in England that rely on universal credit but miss out on free school meals because their parents earn more than the threshold of £7,400 a year, excluding benefits.

The group of 14 education organisations, including Teach First, Unison and the National Education Union, have also called on the government to expand free school meals to all families receiving universal credit, or an equivalent benefit, as an “immediate first step”.

In their letter they write that they ultimately want free school meals to be available universally, because that is “the clear solution to ensuring fairness and equity across our schools.”

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The letter, sent to Prime Minister Liz Truss, the education secretary, Kit Malthouse, and the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, says: “We are well placed to see the impact of the continuing cost of living crisis on our 8.9 million pupils’ ability to learn and lead healthy lives… We continue to see far too many families struggling to afford to pay for school meals as they fall outside the restrictive free school meal eligibility criteria. We see far too many children facing the devastating stigma of sitting in dining halls with inadequate packed lunches. The situation is getting worse on a daily basis - hunger is now a real issue in our schools.”

The group previously wrote to the government in May to ask for a commitment to an expansion of free school meals, but said it has not received a reply, and the situation has got worse since then.

The letter, also signed by teaching unions the Association of School and College Leaders, the National Association of Head Teachers and NASUWT, says: “Every single school professional is focused on ensuring that our most disadvantaged children are not left behind. To help us do that, we must make sure that every child has the nutrition they need to be able to learn and thrive.”

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