Primary schools react to Mayor announcing free school meals for all

20 February 2023
Today, the Mayor of London has announced that all children in London primary schools will receive a free school meal from September.

School Food Matters has been speaking with headteachers in London this morning. Here’s what two of them have to say: 

Jared Brading, Executive Headteacher, Federation of Sacred Heart & St Mary’s RC Primary Schools, Battersea, LB Wandsworth said:

“This is truly breath-taking news from City Hall. At a stroke the Mayor has lifted a huge burden from the shoulders of parents. The cost of living crisis is hitting all families and this will mean so much to those with school age children. You can judge a society by the way it treats its children, and the Mayor has made London world leading again. School caterers and cooks will rise to the challenge of delivering on this pledge.” 

Reema Reid, Headteacher of Hollydale Primary School in LB Southwark:

“This policy will make a huge difference to families across London. In Southwark, we’ve benefited from free school meals for all our primary children since 2013 and it’s been a game-changer, particularly for big families. Finding dinner money for three or four children is a real struggle, and before meals became free in Southwark, we saw some very unhealthy packed lunches in the dining hall.  What great news that every child in a London primary school will have a hot, nutritious meal to support their learning.”

Children in school canteen

Stephanie Slater, Founder/ Chief Executive of School Food Matters, said:

“This wonderful news will bring relief to millions of families and schools across London. Too many children have been missing out on the nutrition they need to thrive, due to restrictive eligibility criteria and an onerous application process. Thanks to the vision of London's Mayor, from September every primary school child in the capital will have a hot, healthy school meal. 

“Universal provision has been shown to improve children’s health and attainment, as well as reducing inequalities, putting money back into families’ pockets and boosting the economy. We hope the government will follow London's lead and expand free school meals to more children nationwide, but for now three cheers for the Mayor!”  

This announcement follows years of campaigning by School Food Matters and others, recognising both the urgent need and the numerous benefits.  

Introduction of universal free school meals is the leading ask of the School Food Review Working Group

Research by Child Poverty Action Group revealed that 41% of children living in poverty in London are currently not eligible for a free school meal.  This is because of the government’s draconian eligibility criteria, which require families to be in receipt of universal credit and have a total household income below £7,400 per year. 

Local authorities in the London Boroughs of Islington, Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Westminster already fund school meals for all their primary school pupils. Tower Hamlets is going even further and planning free secondary school meals from this September, an initiative already piloted in Hammersmith and Fulham.   

We hope that this new funding from the Mayor will open up opportunities for other London boroughs to explore free meals for secondary students, to provide a truly universal service.