Education secretary Jenny Gilruth to demand Scots free school meals cash

Jenny Gilruth has promised to appeal directly to new First Minister John Swinney for free school meals funding after meeting campaigning pupils at a Scottish Parliament summit.

The Education Secretary attended the event last week which was organised in conjunction with the Sunday Mail to promote our campaign demanding government action to fight an explosion of food poverty in the classroom.

At the round table discussion children from across Scotland told Gilruth of their experience receiving school meals and why they believed free provision should be expanded to all.

Teachers, union leaders and public health experts have warned thousands of kids are attending school hungry because of the cost of living crisis.

The Scottish Government committed several years ago to giving free school meals to all - but as yet only Primary one to five classes are catered for.

A promised pilot in secondary schools is also yet to be launched.

Gilruth has now pledged to personally raise the issue at a cabinet meeting with Swinney on Tuesday and appeal for more funding.

She told the Sunday Mail: “The summit today was really important. We had a number of young people in attendance and that was fantastic to have them in Parliament - the youngest boy was a 10-year- old in Primary 6.

“It was brilliant to hear their voices about the importance of free school meals and what it means to them to reduce the stigma by introducing universal provision.

“We’ve made brilliant strides in terms of the roll-out from Primary 1-5 and we are now focusing on extending provision to everyone in receipt of the Scottish child payment in Primary 6 and 7 pupils, before getting to full universality.

“Today was a really important milestone to get that understanding cross-government.”

Gilruth made the pledge after hearing from pupils at the event.

Minister for Education and Skills Jenny Gilruth
Minister for Education and Skills Jenny Gilruth -Credit:PA

Summer Miller, 11, a Primary 7 pupil at Ardrossan Academy in South Ayrshire, said: “We want everyone to be treated the same and so giving everyone lunch for free in school means that people don’t feel left out.”

Leland Ahern, 10, who is in Primary 6 at Newton Primary in Ayrshire, said: “There should be free school meals not just for primary 1 to 5, they should be for everyone. If they are not then some children might not be getting the food they need to grow up strong and it’s not fair some people need to eat different food because they don’t have enough money.”

Gemma Osuolale, a teen from the Passion4Fusion charity which supports young people from ethnic minority backgrounds, said: “Free school meals should be available in secondary schools as it’s the only way to make sure all children have the nutrition and energy they need. If everyone got one it would get rid of the social stigma around free school meals and help with social inequality which can be really difficult for some pupils.”

Hours after the meeting a £1.5m fund to help councils cancel school meal debt was unveiled by the Scottish government.

Swinney said the move would help ensure children are not “penalised” during the cost of living crisis.

Monica Lennon MSP, who organised the summit and has campaigned tirelessly for free school meals, said: “It is great Jenny has agreed to speak directly to John Swinney at Cabinet, but both should know we want to see action and not more words. Young people should not be fobbed off any longer and we’ll be marking the government’s homework on this to make sure this is not yet more empty words and an F for fail.

“Just cancelling some debt here and there is welcome but it’s not dealing with the root of the problem.”

Liam Kerr MSP, Scottish Conservative shadow cabinet secretary for education and skills, said: “The SNP government’s promise was free school meals for all P6 and P7 pupils by 2022, but two years on, and with that commitment already watered down, they continue to dither. This is typical of the Nationalists’ extravagant promises and their failure to deliver.”

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