Children in Gloucestershire started the new term with a free school meal today.
It is estimated that 15,902 children in reception, year one and year two will now get a free school meal in the county under a new Government scheme which comes into force this week.
Of those children some 1,423 youngsters are currently living in poverty and are likely to see the greatest benefit from the changes.
County councillor Paul McLain, cabinet member for children and young people said: “Since January we’ve worked closely with maintained schools, auditing all kitchen and dining facilities and making best use of the money we’ve been allocated by the Government to ensure all schools are well prepared to provide meals.
“The free school meal pilot schemes found that pupils were eating more healthily and performing better academically.
“Research has shown that a tasty and nutritious free school meal helps children to develop positive eating habits which improve learning and productivity while easing pressure on family budgets.”
Under the new policy, which was first announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg last September, a free school meal is being offered to all school children in reception, year one and year two.
Tasty meals were cooked up at Churchdown Village Infant School for the first time today after the school received a grant to build its own kitchen.
Deputy headteacher, Jill Western, said: “It is just amazing for the school and the children to be able to provide tasty, nutritional meals.
“It is a really good idea and it will help a lot of families who may struggle with the rising costs of food. Now we can ensure that every child has a hot meal and that is going to help with their learning and development.”
Nationally, the landmark move will make free school meals available to around 1.5 million more children, including 160,000 more children living in poverty.
These children will be able to rely on at least one nutritious meal every school day and will help hard-pressed families across the country in the face of rising costs and food prices.
However, while this move is a significant step forward, The Children’s Society says around half a million children who are living in poverty will continue to miss out on a free school meal.
It says many low-income families are unable to get free school meals because their parents are working.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: “The extension of free school meals to all infants is a positive step forward in the fight against child poverty, and shows that the Government recognises the hardship that thousands of families are facing.
“But for poor youngsters older than seven, nothing has changed. That’s why it is vital that ministers build on this to make sure that every child in poverty is guaranteed a free school meal, whatever their age.”