PARENTS of primary school children in Hartlepool are set to save almost £1million with the introduction of a new free school meals scheme.
The Government initiative, which will start with the new school term in just over two weeks’ time, means more than 2,000 town youngsters, aged between four and seven, will be in line for the free lunches.
It will save families of 2,430 Hartlepool children £400 a year, amounting to £972,000.
Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who is spearheading the new initiative, said: “Free school meals for infants will not only save families hundreds of pounds a year, but will also have an impact on how a child performs in the classroom so that, regardless of their background, every child can have the best possible start in life.
“Pupils at the pilot schools who were all given free meals were found to be up to two months ahead of their peers elsewhere.
“This is one of the most progressive changes to our school system for a long time.
“My goal is to create a level playing field for all of our children so their success will be determined by their talents and efforts alone and not by their parents’ bank balance.”
While free school meals were means tested for all children from Year 3 onwards, they are now available to all children in reception and Years 1 and 2.
The Department of Education says studies show that providing children with a healthy, nutritious lunch helps them to concentrate and learn in the classroom.
It adds that the free meals will also help to reduce childhood obesity.
Currently, around 20 per cent of children nationally are obese by the time they leave primary school.
The Government says the new free school meals are just one of a number of initiatives to get more pupils eating school dinners.
Last year it published a School Food Plan, which aims to transform what children eat in schools and how they learn about food.
And £150 million has been made available to improve schools’ kitchen and dining facilities.
From September, cooking will be back on the curriculum, which combined with other measures, aims to create a generation of happy and successful children who enjoy healthy food.