Posted: 18 December 2014

Nick Clegg: ‘An extra 1.3 million infants are benefitting from free school meals’

When you’re young, there’s nothing more exciting than the last days at school before the Christmas break – classrooms covered in tinsel and the final moments of term filled with parties, games and school plays.  

Thanks to universal free school meals, this year will be even more fun with over 1.6 million of our youngest primary school children sitting down to enjoy a free, healthy Christmas lunch.

This represents one of the most progressive changes to our school system for decades – helping our youngest children to learn, fuelled by a delicious free school meal and giving more parents than ever the peace of mind that their sons and daughters will be able to enjoy a healthy free lunch every single day.

But it’s not just what happens at lunchtime that we care about. This is also about the rest of the day too. If we feed our children well, we can educate them well. Kids will be far more likely to concentrate in the classroom if they’ve got a healthy meal in their tummy. It’s as straightforward as that.

Free school meals help families

At first, a few schools tested the idea to make sure it worked. The results were compelling, showing that children reaped the benefits – they were academically two months ahead of classmates who didn’t have the free school lunch.

For parents, it could also mean a saving of £400 per year, per child, on the cost of a packed lunch.

Crucially, it brings children together and means everyone’s sharing the same delicious food. There is a value in togetherness - you can’t add a statistic to that; you can’t draw a graph on it. We just intuitively know that children will benefit by doing things together in that way.

So I’m proud and completely unapologetic about securing universal free school meals for infants, and I want to pay tribute to the teachers, headteachers, catering staff, local councils and others who have contributed to its great success so far. In particular, I’d like to thank The Children’s Society for their excellent campaign to help make it a reality.

Improving free school meals

I pushed hard for this because it can really make a difference in terms of increasing social opportunity and fairness, giving people the best shot possible at a happy life.

Some sceptics have tried to discredit it. They said we’d fail to get it off the ground. They were wrong.

This week, the latest data from schools shows that an extra 1.3 million infants are benefitting since we made free school meals provision universal. That’s 85% of our youngest school children choosing a school lunch rather than bringing food from home.

School meals have changed for the better, a far cry from the bad lunchtime memories some of you might have from your childhood. From January, we're also bringing in new standards for school food to make sure these meals are even more healthy, nutritious and tasty. 

This will benefit many, many children for generations to come.  

So, in the run up to this festive period, enjoy the sprouts and I hope you and your family have a merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

By Nick Clegg - Guest bloggers