A powerful case for universal free school meals...

Written by: Emma Lee-Potter | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Accounts of the hunger and shame felt by children living in poverty “make the case for universal free school meals (FSM) more powerfully than anyone else could”.

The troubling stories have been highlighted by academics at the UCL Institute of Education who interviewed 45 low-income families in two areas of South East England.

Around a quarter of the children in the study said they sometimes went hungry, despite the sacrifices their parents made.

The research found that FSM are not accessible to many children from low-income families, such as those with no recourse to public funds (NRPF). While some schools fund lunches for these children (NRPF is usually due to unresolved immigration status), others do not, which means they go hungry.

“Sometimes you don’t have enough energy, you cannot cope in the classroom so you have to try and rest a bit,” one 14-year-old boy said. “You just put your head on the table and you end up falling asleep in the classroom and you get in trouble.”

Many schools do not differentiate between pupils who are entitled to FSM and those who pay, but some identify children who receive FSM, sometimes restricting the options they can choose. This causes embarrassment for the children.

“The young people in this study make the case for universal FSM more powerfully than anyone else could,” said Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group. “Their hunger, their shame, their sense of being cut off from learning and social opportunities – all because parents can’t afford enough food – are appalling in a society that believes every child matters.”

The research is included in the book, Living Hand to Mouth? Children and food in low-income families, which has been published by the Child Poverty Action Group.

Meanwhile, separate research led by Lancaster University Management School has found that victims of bullying in secondary schools are more likely to experience mental health problems and unemployment in later life, with victims of persistent or violent bullying suffering the worst consequences.

The academics analysed the data of more than 7,000 pupils aged between 14 and 16 from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England. About half of them had experienced bullying, including being called names, being excluded from social groups, being threatened with violence and experiencing violence.

The youngsters were interviewed at regular intervals until the age of 21 and then again at 25. The interviews showed that being bullied in school increased the extent of mental health problems at the age of 25 by 40 per cent. Bullying reduced the probability of gaining five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C by 10 per cent and decreased the probability of staying on for A levels by 10 per cent.

Co-author Emma Gorman, from Lancaster University, said: “Being bullied causes detrimental effects on children’s lives not just in the long term, but for many years after. These are more pronounced among pupils who experience persistent bullying or violent types of bullying.”

  • The causal effects of adolescent school bullying victimisation on later life outcomes, Gorman et al, April 2019: http://bit.ly/2UMPjBl


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up SecEd Bulletin