'Championing the rights of children'

David Laws talks about universal infant free school meals

Garry Tue 15 Jul 2014 11:43

Schools Minister announces that 99% of schools are now on track to deliver universal infant free school meals this September.

Thank you for inviting me to speak at your conference today.

I am delighted to be here and to be able to thank you in person for all your hard work which you do and also – crucially this year – for the massive and successful effort which many of you are putting in to deliver the government’s policy of universal free infant school meals from this September.

I was reading recently about a research study into school food in the north of England.

In the study, around 40 children from 2 schools were provided with state-funded breakfast and lunch. The study reported how the meals improved the pupils’ behaviour.

What was the date of this study? It was not 2007, or even 1997. It was from 1907.

History of free school meals
In the mid-19th century, charities such as the Destitute Children’s Dinner Society raised money to provide meals for poor children.

Manchester provided meals for its poor and badly nourished children in 1879.

A similar scheme ran in Bradford, where the local school board argued that if the state were to take charge of educating pupils during the day it should take charge of feeding them as well.

These pioneers were taking a huge risk.

Incredibly, they were breaking the law in those days by providing these meals and could have been forced to stop.

Yet they understood clearly that, without a healthy meal, children would be less able to concentrate and succeed in school.

Pupils weren’t slow to realise their potential and take them up.

One of the first dinner ladies, Miss Cuff, reported that while on day one 13 children declined her oatmeal porridge, the next day this dropped to just 2 and from the third onwards her cuisine was eaten and enjoyed by all.

At first, the arguments that there should be national provision of free school meals fell on deaf ears.

To the Westminster establishment the idea seemed too radical, too expensive, too difficult and questionable in ideological terms.

Read more... (DfE - 11 July)