Universal Free School Meals and National Indicators

Free School Meals are to be extended to families include primary school-aged children in low-income working families on a household income up to £16,190.

Fantastic news it is too.

Now England can start to catch up with other countries that offer universal free school lunches like Sweden (since 1948), Finland (since 1973) and, closer to home, Scotland with its three year primary schooling FSM pilot that started in 2007.

The one small caveat is that FSM statistics had been elsewhere used as outcome indicators.

In December 2009 this DCSF press release explained that:

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker welcomes new figures showing the GCSE attainment gap between boys and girls, and between those on free school meals (FSM) and their peers, has narrowed over the last 12 months.

The provisional 2009 national GCSE figures, published in October, showed 50.9 per cent of pupils got five or more A*-C GCSEs including English and mathematics – up from 47.8 per cent last year.

Today’s provisional statistics show:

  • · Free school meals: the proportion of FSM pupils gaining expected level rose overall by 3.4 ppts – a faster improvement than the 3.1 ppt rise for non-FSM pupils.

The question is now how do we measure the outcomes of children from lower income family backgrounds against educational exclusion?

It’s in everyone’s best interest for all children to have free and healthy school dinners, but an unintended consequence of this universal FSM pilot will be to lose a benchmarking tool.

How do they measure these outcomes in Europe? Have the Government realised this caveat yet?

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