Durham, Newham and Wolverhampton to pilot free school meals

01/05/2009 - 00:00
More primary school children in Durham, Newham and Wolverhampton will benefit from a free healthy school lunch, following an announcement today by the government.

Durham and Newham will provide universal Free School Meals (FSMs) to all primary school children and Wolverhampton will pilot an extension of the current eligibility criteria. The pilots will run for two years from September 2009 and the government says it will be testing each pilot against a control group where the current rules for eligibility for FSMs apply to inform the full evaluation. The pilots are joint funded with a total of £20 million from Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department of Health and this money is being matched by the successful local authorities, taking the total for £40 million. Local Authorities in deprived areas were invited to bid to take part in a two year pilot which will look at the health benefits of free school meals. It will investigate whether free school meals: reduce obesity/have an impact on a child's BMI change eating habits at home impact on behaviour and academic performance at school improve school standards improve general health and well being Children's Secretary Ed Balls said: "Healthy school dinners feed the minds and bodies of our children helping them to get the most out of their school day and these pilots will let us understand the benefits of a hot dinner for all pupils. "We are determined that those eligible for free school meals but not claiming them, do so – it is not good enough that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are missing out on a free healthy meal every school day." Coun Claire Vasey, cabinet member for Children and Young People's Services at Durham County Council, said that up to 30,000 children could benefit from the scheme, adding: "We are thrilled to be part of this scheme, which represents a major opportunity to improve the health, wellbeing and educational attainment of children across County Durham. We know that children who enjoy a nutritious and balanced diet are more likely to grow up fit and healthy and do better at school because they have better concentration and behaviour. "We worked hard with health colleagues and our main school meals contractor Taylor Shaw to ensure our bid was successful because we know what a fantastic opportunity this is for children and their families in County Durham." The Pilots will be evaluated by the National Centre for Social Research. The evaluation will look in particular at the impact of each option for free school meals on school lunch take up; diet and eating habits at school and at home, and on health, behaviour, concentration and attainment. The scheme evaluation will determine whether or not the additional benefits resulting from the FSM pilot offer value for money and identify whether the current eligibility rules are right. Ed Balls will also be writing next week to all head teachers, Chairs of Governing Bodies, Local Authority Lead members and Directors of Children's Services to encourage all schools and local authorities to continue to promote healthy school lunches to their pupils.

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