THE BLOG

Labour's Free School Meals Policy Will Make A Difference To The Lives Of Countless Children

06/04/2017 08:07 BST | Updated 06/04/2017 10:23 BST
Christopher Furlong via Getty Images

As a teacher, just like a parent, you want the best for children. I've been a teacher for 27 years, and in that time I have taught hundreds of children. My job is to help them all reach their potential, no matter what their background.

It might seem odd that the subject I am writing about is free school meals, but the benefits of universal access for all children are huge, for both the health and attainment of pupils.

Today, Jeremy Corbyn and Angela Rayner will announce Labour's policy to provide access to free school meals for all primary school children, and it is one I welcome.

Ever tried to teach a hungry child? It's difficult. Research has shown that better food is linked with better behaviour. I know I couldn't concentrate if I went a whole day without a healthy meal, so I wouldn't blame any of my pupils for struggling either.

Research by the National Centre for Social Research and the Institute of Fiscal Studies confirmed that offering universal access to free school meals enables primary school pupils to perform better at school, thanks to improvements in pupils' productivity. In fact, around 2% more children reached target levels in maths and English at Key Stage 1; while at Key Stage 2 the impact on achievement was between 3% and 5%, with academic improvements most notable among children from less affluent families.

Labour's policy will also work to address serious health problems in children that need fixing. Tragically, almost 20% of children are obese by the time they leave primary school. School provided meals are usually far healthier than packed lunches. For some children their free school lunch is the only healthy hot meal they get.

Unfortunately, despite the numerous benefits connected to the provision of universal free school meals, the government has failed to deliver this important right for children. It is simply not good enough.

It is unacceptable that thanks to the choices of this government, 700,000 children in poverty are not entitled to free school meals, and even of those that are entitled, many don't claim them because of fear of teasing by other pupils. Universal provision will help address this by making sure every child gets a healthy meal and removing the stigma of receiving free school meals.

Today's policy will make a real difference to the lives of countless numbers of children. All primary school children, no matter what their background, have the right to a healthy meal at school. I'm glad that under Labour, they will.

Louise Regan is a primary headteacher in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire