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Success for school meals campaign

Sunday, 31 March 2024 10:33

By Guy Henderson, local democracy reporter

Kevin Foster, Torbay MP (image courtesy: Andrew Barrand)

Schools must be better at providing for disabled children

A campaign to improve school meal choices for disabled children and backed by Torbay MP Kevin Foster has taken a major step forward.

Mr Foster had highlighted the case of a local family whose child had been offered the same food – a jacket potato – every single day because the school meals service was falling short.

Now he has welcomed new guidance on free school meals from the Department for Education which includes a dedicated section on catering for students with disabilities.

Speaking in a debate in January on free school meals for children with special educational needs, Mr Foster said being offered the same meal every day was unlikely to provide a varied diet or encourage the student to take up the school meal offered.

He cited figures provided by Torbay organisation Punk Against Poverty and said: “The provision of free school meals is not only a way of supporting families, but also a way of ensuring that children are ready to learn and engage with their lessons.”

He said the law was clear that maintained schools, academies and free schools had a duty to provide free school meals to pupils of all ages who met the criteria. Schools must also change the way free meals are delivered if the standard way puts disabled pupils at a disadvantage.

Many schools, he said, seemed unaware of their responsibilities, and government guidance does not address how disabled children could access free meals if they can’t get them in the regular way.

He said it was estimated that more than 164,000 disabled children nationwide are missing out on up to £570 worth of food each year. The reasons includes not being able to eat their free lunch because of their health condition, dietary requirements, or sensory processing difficulties that made the lunch room off limits.

Many children were off school because of long-term medical conditions or illness while others go to a school without a canteen.

Education minister Damian Hinds said Mr Foster’s speech had been “compelling” and said the government would update its guidance.

Now that guidance includes a section on making reasonable adjustments for disabled children, such as offering a food voucher if a meal cannot be made by the school directly. It also clearly sets out expectations on what schools should do to comply with the Equality Act 2010 in the delivery of school lunches.

Mr Foster said: “This new guidance is a real win for disabled children and their families, ensuring they can access the free school meal support they are entitled to.  I am glad to have played my part in the campaign which secured this change.”
 

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