School meals are to become part of social education, to ensure every child learns how to sit down and eat with friends every day, according to the SNP's new Education Secretary.
Fiona Hyslop has announced a £5m pilot scheme to offer free, nutritious school meals to all primary one to three pupils in some of Scotland's most deprived areas. The pilot will run from October to March next year.
The SNP wants to roll out free school meals to all Scottish pupils, starting with the most deprived and youngest, but the new administration wants to firstly research the impact on health, social skills, eating habits at home, as well as the problems there may be in finding the catering and dining hall capacity.
The announcement precedes the publication of official statistics tomorrow showing how many pupils receive free school meals, with 71,000 currently entitled to them. Nearly 100,000 more have parents dependent on benefits and who would have been the target for expanding the scheme if Labour had remained in power.
Ms Hyslop said: "This is about more than school meals. I want Scotland to be healthier. It's a new way of working across the health and schools agenda to benefit Scotland. Through these pilots many more children will enjoy the benefits of nutritious free school meals.
"The pilot itself will bring its own short-term benefits in terms of health and nutrition for some of our poorest children. The main aim is for our youngest children to develop a taste for healthy foods and the social skills that come from sitting down to eat with friends every day."
John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, described the announcement as an important step forward.
He said: "Universal free school meals could make a huge impact in tackling family poverty and improving children's health and ability to learn.
"We already know from experience in Hull, and further afield in Finland, that universal provision has a dramatic effect on the take-up of healthy school meals and on pupils' concentration and behaviour, so the sooner the new Scottish government rolls out free school meals to all children the better.
"It is also vital ministers ensure that targeting the initial pilots so narrowly does not undermine the potential value of a universal approach."
Source: The Herald
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