This week there’ll be an army of mums, dads, grandparents and carers up and down the country trying to juggle their busy lives. They will be arranging school-runs and childcare to working around school activities and getting uniforms and sports kits ready. And many of these families will be feeling the squeeze, writes Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.
One of my biggest priorities in Government is to ensure that when you and your children set out to achieve your ambitions, the choices available to you are greater and the sums add up a little easier. At every step on this road, we’re working hard to build a stronger economy and fairer society in Britain. A Britain fit for modern families.
So I’m delighted to be able to say that from this month we’re not only extending free childcare for two year-olds to help families that need it the most but we’re also rolling out free school meals for every single child in the first three years of school (aged 4-7), that’s 263,985 more children in the South East and more than 20,000 children in Oxfordshire.
Free school meals will not only save mums and dads in Oxfordshire around £400 per year, per child but the benefits for children speak for themselves. In areas where we’ve been piloting free school meals, early research shows that pupils are up to two months ahead of their peers in other places and have a better chance of improving in all subjects from maths and science to writing and reading. Plus they’re more likely to eat vegetables at lunchtime rather than less healthy options like crisps.
This is also crucial for making sure every child gets the best start – regardless of their background and how much money their parents have. Too often in Britain’s schools we still see poorer children falling behind their better-off classmates, and it starts to happen very early on. By making sure all little boys and girls are getting a healthy meal we can help level the playing field and close this gap – and for me nothing is more important than that.
Too often, where a child is born or where they go to school determines how successful they are in life. Social mobility cannot be fixed overnight, but I’m committed to doing all I can to help young people from deprived backgrounds overcome the barriers to success that they face. That’s why I’ve pushed hard to make free school meals a reality and help ease the pressure for millions of families across the country.
We’re well on our way to building a fairer society which helps parents make the best choices for their children while balancing the demands of their family lives.
Let’s be clear, if you scour the country to look for a head who’s not happy or a school that’s not ready I’m sure you’ll find them. The vast majority are ready and they’re preparing enthusiastically because I know and most parents know a healthy meal will help them focus.
Where we piloted it children were two months ahead of their classmates who weren’t doing it. Having children eating together, not parcelled off is good for the classroom, it saves £400 a year for families.
There are small schools that need to make adaptations. We’ve put a billion pounds aside for the meals, I’ve spoken to schools doing the catering they say the money for that is more than adequate.
We’ve provided for adaptations, there’s no leave to plunder other educational budgets. I want to pay tribute to those who have made it a full success. We’ve given them a full year to get ready, more time for those piloted.
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