"Every child should be able to access free school meals"

Daniel Hill

Reporter:

Daniel Hill

Thursday 7 April 2022 1:00

IN addition to expressing his frustration at the decision taken by the Education Authority to decrease the number of visits made by educational psychologists to schools, Kevin also shared his opinions in regards the facilitation of free school meals to all pupils in Northern Irelands schools.

“The number of children availing of free school meals in our school remains relatively low and stable. This is because the vast majority of children in our school have either one or both parents that are in employment so this usually excludes most children from the criteria of being able to avail of free school meals.

“Having said that we have not noticed an increase in the number of children in our school availing of free school meals and the qualification to be deemed eligible for free school meals has been changed.

Also, in my own experience some people may be hesitant to have their child avail of free school meals even though they may be entitled to it because they feel like they have pay for it themselves. In the previous school that I worked at I would have known families who were entitled to free school meals but they opted not to apply for it because they would rather that they do it themselves.

“In England, Wales and Scotland they have moved to allowing for all primary school aged children to be eligible to free school meals no matter what their families income may be. There was also a campaign in Northern Ireland ran by Unite the union which campaigned for free school meals for every child. I am in support of this initiative because I think it is important that every child should be able to access free school meals regardless of their parents' income.

“We speak about education and make reference to the fact that it is a universal right that all children should be entitled to. To help facilitate this, obviously you want children to be entitled to a mid-day meal in the middle of the day and schools can provide this. How to do you square a system that is trying to promote wellbeing and healthy eating, but denies children a healthy lunch, with the qualification being used to determine whether or not a child is entitled to a healthy lunch being what wage their parents earn.

“If we want to instil a philosophy of healthy eating and consuming a balanced diet in the next generation of children, then the best place, we can do this is in school. Furthermore, the best age in which we can do this is with young children, even nursery aged children. You give children access to a healthy meal and you get them to try new things and you make sure that the meals they consume are balanced.”

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