Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat Leader, has announced this afternoon that the government will extend free school meals to disadvantaged students in further education and sixth form colleges from September 2014. Free school meals are currently available only for eligible students at school sixth forms.
Mr Clegg said: “My ambition is that every primary school pupil should be able to sit down to a hot, healthy lunch with their classmates every day.
“Millions of parents across the country are feeling the squeeze. Over the course of a year families spend over £400 lunch money for each child. I am determined to do all we can to help put money back in the pockets of these families.
“Universal free school meals will help give every child the chance in life that they deserve, building a stronger economy and fairer society.”
Martin Doel, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “This is great news and something we have been working towards for some years through our No Free Lunch? campaign. This announcement by Nick Clegg addresses an indefensible disparity affecting disadvantaged 16 to 18-year-olds choosing to study at a further education or sixth form college instead of remaining in a school sixth form.
“The extension of free meals will be good news for some 103,000 students from poorer backgrounds who study in our colleges and the 10,000 students, MPs and members of the public who signed our No Free Lunch? e-petition on the 10 Downing Street website. It marks the end of a fundamental funding anomaly that saw students penalised based on their choice of academic institution and is a clear sign that the Government is serious about creating a level playing field between colleges, sixth form colleges and schools. We look forward to seeing the finer details about the funding arrangements in the Autumn Statement.
“The news will, no doubt be welcomed by disadvantaged students and their parents, at a time when family budgets are being stretched to the limit.
“We would like to thank MPs from all parties who have helped make our case, including the former Education Secretary Rt Hon David Blunkett MP, former college principal Nic Dakin MP, Robert Halfon MP and Ian Swales MP. Their support and determination to keep this issue on the political agenda has been crucial to the success of this campaign.”
The government is also extending the scheme from September 2014 to all infant school pupils in state funded schools in England and estimates these two measures will cost approximately £600m.
More on this in the next edition of FE Week
Caption: Skills Minister Matthew Hancock given a No Free Lunch campaign lolly at the AoC Conference and Exhibition last November. Picture by Nick Linford