photo credit: Clegg Speech 34 via photopin (license)

All school children under the age of 11 would be entitled to free school meals, under new plans announced by the Liberal Democrats.

The move would see free school meals being extended for seven to eleven year-olds, “benefiting 1.9 million children and saving parents around £400 per child each year”.

According to the Liberal Democrats, their plans would “more than double the offer of free schools meals to all five, six and seven-year old pupils delivered by the Liberal Democrats in government”.

Pilot studies suggest that free school meals help to improve children’s health and concentration in class, leading to a higher level of attainment at school.

During trials, the number of children eating vegetables increased by 23% and there was an 18% drop in the number eating crisps.

“When free school meals were first introduced, between 3% and 5% more children achieved their target levels in maths and English at Key Stage 1”, say the Liberal Democrats.

Extending free school meals to all primary school children would cost £610 million and may not be introduced until after 2018, due to budgeting restraints.

Of course, much depends on whether the Liberal Democrats are still in government after the general election – and who with.

Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said:

“Liberal Democrats want every child to have the best possible start in life. That’s why I want every child to have a hot, healthy school lunch.

“We know that giving children a healthy lunch helps them to concentrate in the afternoon and do better in class.

“It will also save parents £400 for every child they have in primary school.”