The HEART Education Trust in Norfolk has launched an initiative to increase the uptake of universal infant free school meals across its four primary academies. From 6th January, pupils will no longer bring packed lunches to school but will instead get a free hot meal. Trust CEO Christina Kenna said, “We have introduced this new initiative as part of our vision to give children the best possible chances in life. Not only will they concentrate better and be ready to learn if they have had a proper hot meal at lunchtime, but they will also learn to make healthier choices about what they eat and get the right nutrition to grow up healthy.” A 2012 pilot study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that Year 6 students in areas of universal provision made an additional two months’ progress over the course of two years relative to similar students in other areas. These significant effects were roughly equivalent to the benefits from national programmes such as the “literacy hour”.
Trust leaders cite a 2018 Education Policy Institute report, where parents were said to be saving an average of 50 minutes and £10 each week as a result of UIFSM. “Schools receive funding specifically for the purpose of providing hot meals to children in Reception and Key Stage One” says Trust COO, Hazel Cubbage. “It seems ridiculous for parents to struggle to plan and pay for lunches when we can provide them for free.”
The Trust says that parents of children with special dietary requirements should not be concerned by the move. “We have worked closely with our caterers to ensure we can provide a wide menu selection that accommodates a range of dietary needs, including vegetarian, gluten free and dairy free options. Children will have a choice between three hot meal options, a jacket potato with a selection of three different toppings and access to a salad bar.”
In its letter to parents communicating the initiative, the Trust referred to the positive difference it would make to preserving the planet for its children. Trust COO, Hazel Cubbage, said “Everything we do is about improving the futures of our children, but what future will they have if we destroy their planet and teach them to do the same? We are incredibly conscious of our responsibility as an organisation to make sustainable choices.”
The Trust advises that the initiative is completely in keeping with its organisational values, which include inspiring and empowering personal growth, promoting social mobility and a commitment to social responsibility. “At The HEART Education Trust we are trailblazers. It is our hope that other schools and academies will see what we are doing and follow suit.”
Key Stage 2 pupils, who are not entitled to free meals under the government’s UIFSM programme will continue to bring in packed lunches.