Pupils back call for free primary school lunches

A school meal on a tray
All primary school children in London currently receive a free school lunch [PA Media]

Children in Bradford have backed a charity's calls for free school lunches for all primary school pupils and urged Yorkshire's metro mayors to appeal for extra cash to fund the scheme.

Already in action in London, The Food Foundation wants to see the universal scheme rolled out in other areas.

Teachers, however, have raised concerns that without additional funding the initiative would only squeeze school budgets further.

A government spokesperson said that since 2010 the number of children receiving free school meals had risen from one sixth to more than one third.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, introduced free school meals (FSM) for primary school children across the city in 2023 and, prior to being re-elected, said he intended to extend the scheme for another year.

In Wales all primary school children are eligible, while in Scotland all children are eligible until they are nine years old.

In England, free school meals are universal in reception, year one and year two. However, after that, parents need to be claiming Universal Credit and earning no more than £7,400 per year.

Calling for Mr Khan's approach to be implemented in other areas, The Food Foundation urged other metro mayors to back their campaign, saying the government's "restrictive FSM criteria means thousands of local children don’t have the food they need to concentrate and learn".

Kathryn Shaw, head teacher of All Saints Primary School
Mrs Shaw said any move to introduce free school meals would need to fully funded [BBC]

Kathryn Shaw , head teacher at All Saints Primary School in Bradford, said it would be "brilliant" if the initiative were introduced, but warned against doing so without additional support.

She said it currently costs the school £2,700 per week to provide hot school lunches, adding that costs had risen by about 20% in recent months due to inflation.

Mrs Shaw said: "Currently we have about 44% of our 650 children who are accessing free school meals.

"Obviously, if we go universal, we're talking an rise of about 55%. That is a huge amount of money in this school. It would need to be funded properly."

According to the government's school funding formula, children in inner London receive £8,800 compared to £6,350 in Yorkshire and the Humber.

Mr Khan's free meals policy - which cost £130m in its first year - is paid for out of his £20bn annual mayoral budget.

The West Yorkshire Mayor, meanwhile, has £850m to spend in the next year.

Asked if there was a postcode lottery around school meals, Mrs Shaw said: "It does feel like it.

"If they are already doing it [in London], and we are not, and we know that Bradford is an area where nutrition is a concern, then you do question why it wasn't trialled somewhere in the north as well.

"Our children deserve the absolute best, just like anywhere else in the country. "

Jasmine
Jasmine said she wanted there to be a fair approach across the country [BBC]

Children at the school said they were keen to see free meals made available in Bradford.

Jasmine told the BBC: "I think it's not fair how London get healthy, warm meals and they don't need to pay at all and how in Bradford we have to pay for our meals."

Fellow pupil Marta said: "Us people in the north matter as much as the people in the south do. I think we all deserve equality because that's the power of Great Britain."

West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin said: "I know first-hand how important free school meals are in tackling hunger and poverty, and I want to do more to help.

“In West Yorkshire, we’ve provided millions of pounds of support to families through our cost of living fund, and we’re giving people the skills they need to secure well-paid jobs, to put more money into the pockets of families that need it most.

“But without more power and more money, this decision is in the hands of the government. After 14 years of cuts and austerity, people deserve better.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We are determined to give every child, regardless of their background, the very best start in life.

"We have extended eligibility for free school meals to more groups of children than any other government over the past half a century, more than doubling the number of children receiving free school meals since 2010, from one sixth to over one third.

“We will continue to keep eligibility for free school meals under review to ensure that they are supporting those who need them most.”

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