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13,000 extra pupils to get free school meals
AN EXTRA 13,000 schoolchildren could soon be sitting down to a free school lunch.
And the news has been met with cautious enthusiasm around the county.
Free school meals are currently only available to children whose parents are on benefits or earn less than £16,190 a year.
But Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has pledged all children in reception to year two would receive a free school lunch from September 2014.
In Oxfordshire, 9,506 children now have free school meals. Until 2014 school intakes are calculated it is impossible to say exactly how many extra children will qualify. But on current figures, there are 22,215 children in maintained and academy schools in those age groups – which would add 13,000 more children to the free meals list.
Hannah Forder-Ball, early years manager at St Gregory the Great School in Cricket Road, Oxford, said: “For many children, not necessarily here, that meal will be the only cooked meal they get in a day.
“It’s not just promoting healthy eating and understanding but it is actually promoting the social skills that come with eating together.
“I think it is a really good initiative if it can be effectively funded without detriment to other services for children and young people."”
Steve Dew, headteacher at Church Cowley St James School in Bartholomew Road, said: “It’s a great idea, particularly for parents that are busy, because they can be assured children are having hot meals and being fed.
“As a school with our Healthy Schools badge, we can ensure it is healthy food they are having and monitor their intake.”
A free school lunch will be worth about £400 a year to a family.
Anna Thorne, manager of Donnington Doorstep Family Centre in Townsend Square, said: “I think it is a really great idea that should be extended to all school-age children. The short-term costs will be offset by the long term gains in terms of better health and educational outcomes for children. “Some research has shown that providing free lunches can have a more significant impact on improved educational achievement than direct educational interventions. Providing this for all children removes the stigma that is often still attached to children having free school meals.”
Earlier this month the Oxford Mail revealed that children who qualify for free school meals have made big strides in their exam results, with 59 per cent gaining five A* to C GCSEs compared with 37 per cent in 2005, and 25 per cent gaining A-Levels or their equivalent, up from 17 per cent over the same period.
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