Are free meals a recipe for school success?

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A headteacher has welcomed an announcement that every child will receive free dinners for their first three years at school.

But the £600million scheme has had a mixed reaction from others, with some saying parents should foot the bill to feed their own children and the cost should not come out of taxpayers’ pockets.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg revealed the coalition government’s plan on Tuesday night, much to the delight of many parents of young children, who currently face a bill of more than £400 a year per child for school dinners.

But within hours of the Spalding Guardian asking readers what they thought on our Facebook page on Wednesday morning, there were dozens of comments – many not in favour.

Tracey Steele said: “If you choose to have children you should buy their school dinners and if you can’t afford it then don’t have children – simple. Too many free offerings out there.”

Other parents argued that the scheme doesn’t go far enough.

Anna Brown said: “I’d like to see all school pupils receive a free nutritious breakfast.”

And Debbie Slator added: “What about the older children – don’t they matter?”

But others say it is a great idea.

Carol Pearce said: “I think it’s a great idea as some kids at my school bring very little in their lunch sometimes.”

It it is this positive view that is shared by Spalding St Paul’s Primary School headteacher Kira Nicholls.

She says pupils benefit hugely from having a nutritionally balanced meal during the school day.

Miss Nicholls said: “Making sure children have at least one decent hot meal can only be a good thing.

“It helps them have the energy to focus on their work, and as we have more control over what they eat it means it is the right kind of energy – not a sugar rush.

“By having that input we can ensure they have a healthy and balanced dinner.”

Miss Nicholls says the benefits of children having a hot meal at school are obvious in the classroom, but also have an impact on their their general health and wellbeing.

And, she says, another benefit is the social aspect of children sitting down together.

She said: “Sitting down to eat a hot meal also teaches them other life skills, such as eating with a knife and fork and table manners.”

Paul Reid, headteacher at Spalding’s St John’s primary school agrees with Miss Nicholls points but fears schools could lose out on “pupil premiums” – payments of about £1,000 per pupil who claim free school meals.

Mr Reid said: “If there is no longer a need for parents to claim free meals I hope we will not lose the pupil premiums. We need more information.”

The move has also been welcomed by Lincolnshire County Council.

Debbie Barnes, director of children’s services, said: “We think it’s important for pupils, particularly younger children, to have a good, healthy meal to help them get through a long day and concentrate on their lessons.

“We welcome this news that will extend free school meals to all children in reception, year one and year two.”