‘Free school meal uptake must be maximised’ – Rogers

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Thursday, September 19th, 2013
SDLP Education spokesperson Sean Rogers has said that the Department of Education must recognise the challenges being faced by working families when it considers ways of increasing the uptake of free school meals. Rogers was speaking during an Assembly debate on the issue this week. “It is vitally important that we recognise the need to improve our children’s nutrition, particularly in light of the increased financial pressure on working families. “If our children are to achieve their full potential during the school day they must be fueled with nutritious food,” Rogers insisted. “Research suggests there is a strong link between a healthy diet and a child’s behaviour, and performance in school. Healthy school meals play an important role in helping to raise educational achievement. “They are also a great help in removing barriers to learning for children from lower income backgrounds. “In recent years many families have fallen into the poverty trap – they hold down jobs, they work hard and yet they struggle to meet many of their bills. The working poor make a tremendous contribution to our society and deserve to be supported, in this case when it comes to their children. The SDLP MLA believes that many hard working families on relatively low incomes give their children packed lunches because they don’t qualify for free school meals and the cost of a school dinner is often prohibitive. “We need to support people who want to work and who greatly enhance our society by the contribution they make in the workplace. Losing a free school meal entitlement could make the difference of whether people return to work or not. I believe that we should aim to have free school meals for all Key Stage One pupils. “There also needs to be a collaborative approach between schools and the home to improve diets, promote healthy eating both for parents especially mothers and their children. Rogers added, “I was keen to put forward today an amendment to the motion which reflected the need to focus on nutrition and to recognise the challenges being faced by working families in the current economic climate.”
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