One educational issue has lodged inside the brains of the nation over the last few weeks: free school meals.
In the absence of a decent Labour Party (Keir Starmer has shown his disrespect for our profession by consistently refusing to back us up over his tenure), Marcus Rashford has become the unofficial opposition. Rashford’s most recent intervention, which came thanks to the viral picture from a brave parent on Twitter, highlighted the lottery of meal allowances on offer.
Seeing as local councils have more or less abdicated responsibility on such matters, the quality and quantity of provision is in the hands of headteachers. Due to chronic underfunding and mass debt, cost-cutting is the name of the game in most schools these days. Sadly, if a headteacher is unsympathetic to those who require meal provision, this will mean a shoddy offering. Furthermore, many schools in England are now academy trusts with Tory investment interests and dodgy outsourcing.
A rotten system
Students are on the losing end of a rotten system which needs a complete overhaul. Free school meals kids aren’t the only ones getting a rough deal. I’ve had many hungry bellies in my class belonging to middle class, supposedly ‘respectable’ families. Children who turn up for school without breakfast, looking like they have not washed for considerable lengths of time and describing family situations which are far from ideal. Neglect and abuse are not exclusive to poverty stricken households. Why is it assumed that the middle classes know how to look after their offspring?
The stigma around school meals is a stain on our society. Even primary children know that they are the ‘Free School Meals kids’. How can we strive to create equality when the wealth divide plays out in classrooms amongst children as young as six?
Here’s an idea: make meals at state schools free to all children, not just those who can’t afford them. The number of lunch boxes I see every day crammed full of utter junk is a disgrace. I’ve had kids in my class who are living on a diet of sweets, chocolate, biscuits, and crisps for every meal. Similarly, I’ve also seen some very empty looking lunchboxes originating from a range of households.
Why can’t we?
Of course, critics will always say that providing meals for all is a waste of money and is unaffordable. Yet, I cannot think of a more important use of public funds: a way to ensure every child gets a substantial meal every day. Opening children’s palates to a variety of food would also be a great way of enabling large swathes of our population to become healthier adults. I would argue that, in the long term, it could save the NHS millions and reduce the strain from the obesity crisis.
The number of pupils who cannot learn as they are eating the wrong things or are hungry is a real concern. Happy and healthy children are more likely to be secure adults. Going forward, why wouldn’t we want to invest in the future of our society? It would benefit us all. Other countries already have universal free school meal provision. Why can’t we?
Featured image via Pixnio
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