Pioneering Islington free school meal scheme to be rolled out nationwide

Cllr Richard Watts, Joanne Taipe-Mena, Zac Ado, Ade Sofola, Freya Mellon and Calvin Henry

Cllr Richard Watts, Joanne Taipe-Mena, Zac Ado, Ade Sofola, Freya Mellon and Calvin Henry - Credit: Archant

A pioneering Islington scheme to give all children free school meals – which will now be rolled out nationally – has been praised by headteachers.

In 2010, the council became one of the UK’s first to dish out free food to all nursery and primary school pupils, regardless of how well-off the parents are.

At last week’s Lib Dem party conference, deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced that a similar deal, albeit for younger children, would be given to pupils across the country.

Now headteachers have spoken up in support of the scheme and the effect it has on children.

At St Mark’s Primary School in Sussex Way, Archway, 94 per cent of pupils are registered for free school dinners.

Headteacher Calvin Henry said: “We’ve seen significant benefits since the introduction of free school meals for all, including children being physically healthier, more focused and making better progress.

“This policy is also an effective social leveller. There is no stigma attached to having a free school; rather it is and should be viewed as a basic entitlement.

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“Regular nutritional monitoring of our menus takes place and we also invite parents in to have meals with their children.

“Our pupils come from a range of different ethnic backgrounds and at school they get the chance to try out tasty and healthy dishes from all over the world. How can this therefore not be a policy worth extending?”

John Lane, head teacher at Sacred Heart Primary School, Georges Road, Holloway, said: “Free school meals for all pupils has been a great success at Sacred Heart. Not only do the children look forward to their tasty dinners, but making sure they’re eating the right type of food at lunchtime means concentration levels are better in afternoon classes too.”

The free food is available to all pupils up to and including Year 6. Approximately 1.9 million free meals are served to Islington school children each year.

Cllr Richard Watts, who was executive member for children and families when the scheme was introduced, said: “As well as the benefits for children it makes a big difference for families in these tough times, saving them hundreds of pounds a year.”

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