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Council first in country to rollout universal free school meals in secondary schools from September 2023

  • Tower Hamlets Council is the first local authority in England to fund universal free school meals up to the age of 16.
  • Plans to begin a phased rollout from September 2023 were approved at a Cabinet meeting on 24 May 2023.
  • The scheme supports families during the cost-of-living crisis, providing a saving of £550 per year, per child.
  • The council has funded free school meals for all primary school children since 2014.

Tower Hamlets Council will become the first in England to offer free school meals to all school pupils up to the age of 16, after the proposal was formally approved at a Cabinet meeting last night (24 May).

The funding is part of the council’s effort to improve the life chances of young people in the borough.

Eating a healthy, nutritious meal supports pupils with their learning and has been shown to improve behaviour and academic achievements.

With nearly half of children in Tower Hamlets going into secondary school with excess weight, the scheme is a positive step towards improving the physical health of young people and promoting a healthier borough.

It will also provide vital support during the cost-of-living crisis, saving families an average of £550 per year, per child.

The council has funded free school meals for all primary school children since 2014, and the extension to secondary schools will be rolled out in three phases from September 2023.

Feasibility surveys were carried out in all secondary schools to assess their capacity to deliver, and a phased approach was recommended to allow schools to prepare for delivery based on their individual circumstances.

By April 2024, nearly 38,000 pupils in Tower Hamlets’ primary and secondary schools will have access to a free school meal – regardless of their family’s income.

£5.7m was included in the council’s 2023/24 budget to extend universal free school meals funding from all primary to all secondary school pupils.

The funding forms part of the council’s investment in young people that includes:

  • £13.7m investment to transform youth services
  • £1.1m to re-introduce Education Maintenance Allowances and University Bursaries
  • £1.1m for children with special educational and additional needs (SEND)

Lutfur Rahman, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said:

“There are a number of financial, health and academic benefits to providing universal free school meals which is why this policy is a priority for the council.

“It helps mitigate the impacts of household food insecurity and reduces health inequalities, whilst saving families time and money.

“In Tower Hamlets, the scheme provides a financial saving of £550 per year, per child - providing essential support for families during the cost-of-living crisis.

“I am delighted that secondary school pupils and their families will now be able to reap the same rewards as our primary school pupils.

“Thank you to the secondary schools for their support and cooperation in the build-up to the launch of this ground-breaking scheme.” 

Cllr Maium Talukdar, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Education, Youth and Lifelong Learning, said:

“This scheme will provide much needed support for families during the cost-of-living crisis, whilst tackling health issues and inequalities in the borough.

“Secondary school is such an important part of young people’s lives as they take their GCSEs and start to plan for their futures.  

“Providing a free, healthy lunch is part of the council’s wider commitment to giving young people the tools they need to be successful in whatever they choose to do.”

Posted on Thursday 25th May 2023