An unresolved issue
In February 2022, Schools North East worked in partnership with the North East Child Poverty Commission (NECPC) to write to the Secretary of State for Education. This letter challenged the current FSM provision in England as being insufficient to support the need experienced by schools and local authorities across the region. The letter called for the Government to follow the example set by the Welsh Assembly and offer universal FSM to all primary students- a request which to date has fallen on deaf ears. You can read the full letter here.
Picking up the baton, Bite Back 2030 has been working with partners, including Schools North East and NECPC, on a campaign to extend Free School Meals (FSM) eligibility to all children whose families are in receipt of Universal Credit. Ahead of the budget, the charity is convening a letter from education leaders to the Prime Minister.
In the letter, Bite Back 2030 writes:
“These children are the future workforce and our country’s prosperity depends on them. However, many are being left behind as they are unable to concentrate or participate because they have not had a nutritious meal at lunchtime. This impacts children’s mental health and wellbeing. It undermines a child’s one chance to make the most of their education.”
The importance of this issue has also been recognised by Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, who recently announced that he is providing funding for an extension of FSM to all primary school children in the capital, following on from a similar decision by Westminster Council. This will help an additional 270,000 children to access a meal in school at no cost; saving families £440 per child per year. This will support the capital’s most underprivileged children during the cost of living crisis as well as improve child health and educational attainment.
However, whilst this provision is fully welcomed, it also serves to underline the limited resources North East schools can access to support their children and families. Rather than ‘levelling up’, there is a real danger that these regional disparities will further exacerbate the ‘gap’ between the North and the South, especially for our most disadvantaged children.
Schools North East highlighted the widening gap between the North and South following the release of summer exam results. Since then, Government policy has still failed to recognise the unequal impact of the pandemic, particularly on the North East. Recent developments will not help to tackle the longstanding issues which were exacerbated by the pandemic.
The North East has had the highest rates of students eligible for FSM since 2015/16. It is a figure which has consistently risen year-on-year with the gap between the North East and the South East rising from 8.5% to 11.5% according to the most recent data. This was highlighted as an issue by Schools North East in June 2023- you can read more about this here.
Director of Schools North East, Chris Zarraga said: “All children being able to access Free School Meals is vitally important as it can have a significant impact on a child’s physical and mental health as well as on their attainment in school. Schools North East has always been committed to tackling this issue as students should be able to access all of the necessary resources which can help them with their education. Free School Meals has been a key marker for the educational divide between the North and the South for too long. Schools North East strongly supports Bite Back 2023’s campaign to extend Free School Meals.”
If you would also like to show your support for these measures, please respond directly to James via James.Toop@biteback2030.com to show your support and the Bite Back team will add you to the letter.
To read Bite Back 2023’s letter click here: https://mcusercontent.com/12a4bd639231413c724e87521/files/6a8f3318-5540-0531-f85f-a3d939273631/FSM_letter_Trust_Leaders_Feb_2023.docx.pdf
The Schools North East ‘Manifesto for North East Education’ discusses the region’s high rate of FSM eligibility. This is available to read here.
We love to hear good news from North East Schools, to share your news with Schools North East please tag @SchoolsNE on Twitter or apply here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeGgTpbLixAqIprwSS2JXd_AFcKYD5Ahtug_ol7BdHDfgHRsw/viewform