As of this September, all children in reception, year 1 and 2 in state-funded schools will receive free school meals due to the implementation of Universal Free School Meals (UFSM). In Sutton, 6720 pupils will benefit. Sutton’s schools have all confirmed they are ready to provide UFSM.
Many were sceptical about what benefits can come from this new initiative, but two pilot projects that were run in Durham and Nehwam, East London from 2009 to 2011 indicated real benefits to children.
All primary school children in these two areas were given free lunches and data was collected to assess whether it affected their health and academic performance.
Some improvements were immediate. Take up of meals soared from 50% in both areas to 72% in Newham and 85% in Durham. Consumption of sandwiches fell by 27%, soft drinks by 16% and crisps by 18%, consumption of vegetables rose by 23%.
Maybe even more impressive is the academic results from schools in these areas during this time. Pupils from Durham and Newham moved ahead of their peers by almost a term. UFSM did more to improve literacy levels in two years, than the nationwide introduction of a compulsory “literacy hour” in 1998.
Tom Brake, MP for Carshalton and Wallington is excited about what UFSM means for the children of Sutton, “It is vital that we give every child the best opportunities we can, to achieve the best that they can.
Hungry children, who are not able to get the right nutrients, can’t concentrate – this has been proven time and again. They fall behind in class and become disruptive, which can have detrimental effects on the whole class.
UFSM allows everyone to enjoy meal times together and rather heartwarmingly, it’s been proven that teachers are more likely to eat with the pupils, and that’s something children seem to really enjoy.
Sutton is already renowned for having some of the best schools in the country and with the implementation of this initiative, I am confident that we will see even better results and healthier, happier children."