EDUCATION chiefs have welcomed plans for more students to benefit from free school meals.
Following a national campaign by the Association of Colleges, the Government has announced that free school meals for disadvantaged students will be extended to those in further education and sixth form colleges from next September, benefitting hundreds of Wearside and County Durham young people.
At present, eligible students aged 16-18 only receive free school meals if they attend a school sixth form. But the announcement by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg puts an end to the disparity.
The news comes after education experts welcomed plans to give free school meals to all infant pupils, which will be a huge boost to families across the region.
Suzanne Duncan, principal at East Durham College, is delighted that a large number of students at the Peterlee-based college will benefit.
She said: “This is fantastic news for students in further education.
“This change will benefit hundreds of our students and their families.
“As educationalists, we know the tremendous benefits of good nutrition in helping young people learn more effectively.
“The staff, students and governors of East Durham College would like to congratulate everyone concerned with the No Free Lunch? campaign, including Grahame Morris, MP for Easington, for helping to bring about this success.”
Figures from Durham County Council’s Performance and Data department show in January this year, 22.6 per cent of Year 11 students in East Durham were eligible for free school meals.
Sunderland’s Tory spokesman for education Councillor Robert Oliver said giving all infants a free school meal will save families an average of £400 a year, which will help address concerns about the cost of living.
He said: “A universal system of free school meals for infants will lead to benefits for all children, while avoiding the stigma of means testing.
“Several pilot studies have claimed that a free school meal for all helps to narrow the achievement gap between rich and poor pupils.
“The benefits of a decent hot meal every day include both increased concentration in class and healthier eating habits.”