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The Conservatives have pledged to abolish universal free school lunches for infants. Instead they are proposing free breakfasts for every child. As a headteacher I know first-hand how important free school lunches are and the damage taking them away will do - for example unlike school lunches, breakfasts have no minimum fruit and vegetable portions.

This policy change will damage children’s health, well-being, attainment and academic results. Scrapping free school lunch for infants is simply bad decision making.

This country is facing an obesity epidemic; one in three children leave primary school overweight or obese. Giving children a proper, nutritious cooked meal in the middle of the day has also been shown to improve a child’s overall diet, not just at school. School meals are a vital weapon in the fight to improve our nation’s health. To undo this work would be irresponsible.

We know that the poorest children benefit most from free school lunches. Alarmingly, without universal access to free school lunches, two thirds of children who live in poverty would still not qualify for free school meals – without these, they’ll miss out, every day. Currently, all disadvantaged infant kids have access to a hot meal everyday at school and, for some, this may be the only proper meal they eat all day. Meanwhile, 99% of packed lunches do not meet the nutritional guidelines set for school food – without a free lunch, the number of kids eating packed lunches is certain to increase.

Importantly, school lunchtime is an opportunity for staff and pupils to sit together and talk about issues that concern them. Children get quality adult time and staff can also use the time to encourage children to eat healthily. Free school lunches encourage this essential childhood development. Lunch also has a far wider reach than breakfast. Increasing the number of breakfast clubs in schools is a great idea. But it can’t be breakfast versus lunch. Not all kids will be at school in time for a free breakfast, but they will all be there for lunch.

Please join our call to protect our children and keep universal free school lunches.

Tim Baker, Headteacher, Charlton Manor Primary School, Greenwich, London and...

Jason O’Rourke, Headteacher, Washingborough Academy, Lincolnshire
Richard Dunne, Headteacher, Ashley Primary School, Surrey
Darren Rubin, Headteacher, St Paul’s Whitechapel, London
Terry Bennett, Executive Headteacher, St Paul's Whitechapel & St John’s Bethnal Green CE Primary Schools, London
Nerissa Nicholas, Headteacher, St James Catholic Primary School, Millom, Cumbria
Emyr Fairburn, Headteacher, King’s Cross Academy, London
Headteachers from Collaton St Mary, Galmpton Primary, St Margaret's Academy, Hayes Primary, Sherwell Valley, Roselands Primary, Devon
Karen Collett, Headteacher, Haddenham St Mary’s, Buckinghamshire
Photo credit: Reach Academy Feltham

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