Primary schools across Scotland will continue serving up free school meals for all Primary 1-3 pupils in 2016, after a successful first year of implementation.
The Scottish Government is providing an additional £53.9 million to enable local councils to continue to deliver this commitment.
Following its launch by the First Minster in January 2015, the number of pupils registered for a free school meal has more than doubled to over 259,000, which includes an estimated 135,000 pupils in P1-3.
An official survey earlier this year found that approximately 80 per cent of P1-3 pupils took a free meal, potentially saving the families of every eligible child £380 a year.
Visiting Musselburgh Burgh Primary School in East Lothian today, Dr Alasdair Allan, Minister for Learning, said:
“I am very proud that free school meals are now an established part of the school day for our youngest primary school pupils. School lunches are hugely important in supporting a pupil’s ability to learn.
“In the 12 months since we took this action, there has been a very positive take up across Scotland and we will continue to work with education authorities, schools and teachers to ensure continued promotion of their uptake. In every community across Scotland, schools, families and pupils are reaping the benefits.
“The introduction of free school meals is just one aspect of this Government’s work to tackle the scourge of child poverty in Scotland. Tackling inequalities is at the heart of our Programme for Government and as well as free school meals, we are investing £296 million over three years to protect people from UK Government’s welfare cuts and austerity agenda which are increasing the numbers of children living in poverty.
“Our action is helping to ensure that every child in Scotland gets the best possible start in life.”
John Dickie, Director of Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said:
“The introduction of universal free school meals in P1-3 has been a hugely welcome support for hard pressed families across Scotland.
“It has removed any hassle and stigma associated with means-testing children in the early years of primary and led to increased take up of healthy lunches amongst the most disadvantaged pupils, even where they were already entitled to a free meal.
“It has also ensured children in low income working families benefit from a healthy meal during the school day. As well as providing vital immediate relief to family finances, free healthy school lunches will have a long term impact on children’s education and health.”
Councillor Shamin Akhtar, East Lothian Council Education and Children’s Wellbeing spokesperson, said:
“Initially the uptake of free school meals from P1 to P3 was low and we’ve been working closely with the pupils, catering and school staff to promote and increase the uptake.
“The introduction of taster sessions during Health Week and the inclusion of healthy eating linked into the curriculum really helped.
“This fits in very well with the East Lothian Council’s commitment to our Active Schools programme, which encourages pupils to adopt active and healthy lifestyles.”