FAQs

How would Free School Meals for All work? Who would get it?

Find answers to these questions and learn more about this idea and campaign.

Why do we need Free School Meals for All?
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Person
Question asked by Peter Howell
No child should go hungry at school.

But the truth is more and more children are coming to the classroom without enough to eat. 

Free School Meals help children focus and thrive. They help teachers by allowing  students to be present in class instead of worrying about their next meal.

They help busy parents who struggle to find the time or money to send children to school with a nutritious packed lunch every day. They help school communities as children eat together, learn together, and grow together. 

Giving every child a hot dinner at school would lift all children up so that no child is left behind. And it would help create happy, thriving classrooms where everyone can flourish.
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Who supports Free School Meals for All? 
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Person
Question asked by Peter Howell
Over 250 civil society leaders and millions of parents, educators and community members support Free School Meals for All. 

Extending Free School Meals to every child in primary school is a popular idea. It’s been backed by over 250 civil society leaders, from unions to charities, from medical bodies to faith leaders, from MPs to mayors and councils. 

Click here to see the full list of civil society supporters and sign the letter.

Free School Meals for All is also supported by millions of parents, teachers and trade unionists across the country. Recent polling by Sustain shows 72% of UK adults would like the Government to make school meals free for all primary age children. 
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Aren’t children who need Free School Meals already covered by the Government scheme?
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Person
Question asked by Peter Howell
The current policy leaves far too many children out. The only way to ensure that no child goes hungry at school is to offer Free School Meals for All. 

At the start of this school year, four million children in the UK were living in households that went short on food. 

Currently, school dinners are only free in England for children up to Year Two. Using an eligibility system, some children will always be left out–and no child should ever go hungry at school. 

With living costs soaring, the number of people in need is constantly changing. And when circumstances change, it can be months before families become eligible for government support. 

While we're wasting time on eligibility bureaucracy, governments around the world–and in the UK like Scotland and Wales–are providing Free School Meals to every child. Our Government should do the same. 
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Why don’t we ask families who can afford to pay for Free School Meals to do so?
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Person
Question asked by Peter Howell
That’s not how we do things in the UK. A hot, nutritious dinner is an essential part of the school day, just like desks or school supplies. We don’t ask families to pay for those, so why do we ask them to pay for school dinners?

As educators, we believe schools should be places where children can eat together, learn together and grow together. And that a good education isn’t only about lessons. It stretches from the canteen to the classroom. 

In any means-tested system, there will always be children who miss out on Free School Meals. Restrictive eligibility, complicated registration processes and stigma block countless children and families from this support. 

A hot dinner at school for every child would help build happier, healthier school communities. That’s good for all our children.

And every family will be better off for it, too. 

Only 1% of packed lunches need nutritional guidelines—school dinners help children eat more fruits and vegetables. 

Free School Meals for All would free up families’ cash and time to spend on their children in other ways, whether household heating bills, food at home, or school supplies.
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Is this working anywhere else already?
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Person
Question asked by Peter Howell

Many countries around the world provide Free School Meals to all school pupils.

Free School Meals are already provided in several countries, including India, Sweden, and Finland, and they’ve recently been rolled out in some U.S. states, including California. 

This is already happening in the UK too.

  • In 2020, Scotland pledged to provide free healthy dinners for all children in primary school. 
  • In 2021, Wales promised children the same.
  • London is providing Free School Meals for every child in primary school for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 school years.

In the rest of England, we have Free School Meals for all children up to Year 2 before it stops.

The Government can and must finish the job and roll this out to all primary school years in England.

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Do Free School Meals help children learn?
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Person
Question asked by Peter Howell
Teachers know that without food, children can’t learn. When children have a good meal at school, they’re more able to concentrate in class and absorb their lessons. 

Free School Meals help children learn. Research shows that when Free School Meals are extended, children make more progress in English and maths. 

When primary schools provide hot dinners for every child, they see amazing results. Four boroughs in London have been doing this for years. The impact? Concentration and behaviour improve. Children eat and socialise together, stigma is reduced. Their learning leaps ahead of peers elsewhere.

Free School Meals support children’s health and reduce the anxiety caused by food insecurity, leaving children more able to focus on lessons. Free School Meals for All in primary would be especially helpful for children from lower-income households, equalising opportunity, but all children’s learning benefits from a nutritious dinner at school, enjoyed together socialising with peers.
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Why can’t parents provide lunch for their children? 
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Person
Question asked by Peter Howell
Parents are doing their best, but rising costs make it hard to find time and money for a healthy packed lunch every day.

Parents are under immense pressure, whether it’s to find the time or the money to put together a nutritious packed lunch for their children every day.

And it’s virtually impossible to pull off - only 1% meet nutritional standards.

Falling wages, skyrocketing energy bills and the worst cost of living crisis in a generation will make life tougher still. No parent should be forced to choose between heating their home or providing lunch for their children.

No matter what’s happening in the country or with the economy, when children are at school, we expect them to have everything they need to learn.
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Why does this campaign only apply to primary school? 
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Person
Question asked by Peter Howell
Families with younger children face higher levels of poverty. The Government should do more to help all children but extending Free School Meals from infants to juniors is a good starting point.
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Can schools implement this? 
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Person
Question asked by Peter Howell
With proper Government support and funding, our primary schools can roll out Free School Meals for every child.

Just as rising food prices hit family budgets, school budgets are under pressure too. Headteachers are struggling to keep the cost of school meals down. They’re facing impossible choices: to cut portions or pass on the growing cost of school meals to parents.  

Instead of leaving school communities to face this dilemma alone, the Government could step in to guarantee a hot dinner for every child in primary school. 

School canteens in England already provide universal Free School Meals for children up to year two. This is about the Government supporting schools to extend a programme that’s already working and helps children to learn. 
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How can I help? 
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Person
Question asked by Peter Howell

To win Free School Meals For All, we need a massive groundswell of support. To do that, we’re first asking everyone to sign our open letter urging the Prime Minister to extend Free School Meals.

Once you’ve signed the letter, you can:

  • Tell a colleague or friend about the campaign. People are more likely to take action when they hear it from someone they trust. Share the open letter and ask 3 friends or family members to sign in support of Free School Meals. Click to share on Facebook or Twitter, or send via Whatsapp to a colleague or chat group.

  • Add your school’s name to our open letter. If you’re an educator, help get your school signed up in an institutional capacity, alongside more than 100 charities, foodbanks, schools and community groups.

    Educators' voices carry a tremendous amount of weight on this issue. The more schools supporting Free School Meals for All, the more pressure on our MPs to respond meaningfully to the campaign.

    To sign up your school, fill out this quick form (2 minutes) or send us an email at campaigns@nochildleftbehind.org.uk
  • Share your reasons for supporting Free School Meals for All on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter using the hashtag #FreeSchoolMealsForAll
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PARENTS & 
EDUCATORS
SPEAK OUT

PARENTS & EDUCATORS
SPEAK OUT

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Giving all children a free school meal removes stigma and ensures no child falls through the safety net. It has been proven hunger and anxiety around poverty impacts on ability to learn. Give all children the best chances in life they can have.

Sheila
Retired teacher and grandparent
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One hot meal a day makes a huge difference. The government must design a plan to put actual money into feeding primary school children instead of passing the burden on to schools whose budgets have not been enough for too long.

Séverine
School support staff
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My husband and I both work, we have 2 children and have to make ourselves afford school meals every week. The rising cost of utility bills, fuel for my husband's commute to work and the soaring cost of food means something has to give if we are going to be able to give our children a healthy cooked meal. 

Joanne
Parent
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