Labour’s proposal for free school meals for primary school children is not enough. What about students at secondary schools and at sixth forms? What about university students and apprentices? At best, this policy proposal is behind times and at worst it’s a policy devised five minutes before midnight just to cover up for the fact that the Labour Party doesn’t have credible policy alternatives to the Tories. If Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow cabinet are serious about creating equality of opportunities then a more radical approach is needed. If the left is serious about creating a meritocratic education system, then they can simply not stop at primary schools. They cannot abandon children at the age of 11 and expect them to get on by themselves for at least the next 7 years of their education. A radical overhaul must be envisaged, proposed and implemented to ensure meritocracy from the first day of a child’s education to their last day in sixth form.
From my days at secondary school, I remember that I refused to eat lunch because I was entitled to ‘free school meal’. I used to think of free school meals as thing for ‘the poor’ – and I didn’t want to be seen that way. It felt stigmatising, demeaning and it made me feel less than my peers. But the worst thing of all was that I was scared that people would find out. Luckily, I had brilliant and extremely supportive teachers who would go the extra mile and get lunch for me because they had an understanding of the stigma attached to free school meals. However, not everyone encounters these sorts of teachers; therefore, it shouldn’t be too surprising if there are lots of children who do not use their entitlement to free school meals.
The above shows that this problem doesn’t cease to exist when a child turns 11 or enrols on to a secondary school. I understand that the aforementioned example is an anecdote but I can assure you (the reader) with 100% certainty that there are other young people like me up and down the country. Personally, I think that the problem in fact becomes worse and intensifies further as one grows older and progresses through the education system. Some contributing factors to this issue are being self-conscious and the need to fit in to social groups.
Free school meals itself are not the answer. What about poor health? What about lack of space to study and housing problems? Research has unequivocally proven that lack of space to study has a direct and detrimental effect on educational attainment. Additionally, cold, damp and inadequate housing can also have detrimental effects on educational attainment of students from working class backgrounds. Despite the aforementioned facts, the local library in the borough I live in has introduced a new rule: using the computer is free for the first hour – after that it’s £1 an hour. These rules systematically exclude the working classes and take any chance they have of doing well away from them. Likewise, inadequate access to health services also disadvantage students from attaining their full academic potential. Children who are born into poor families are likely to miss school considerably much more than their middle class counterparts due to the number of days taken off school due to illness.
Free school meal for everyone in the education system is the answer: from the first of the academic life up to the compulsory age of 18 years old. These are the policies that are needed if we genuinely wish to abolish the widespread inequality in the British education system. However, free school meals by themselves are not the answer either. It must be combined with other approaches such as more study space for those children who do not have adequate space at home. Better health care for everyone. And much more.
Free school meals are part of the solution but are not the one and only solution. A comprehensive approach is required to ensure that everyone has an equal chance of success. Otherwise many more generations will be engulfed by the myth of meritocracy and will be subject to failure due to the inaction of the Westminster establishment.
Muhammed Hussain is a writer for Student Voices and a student at Roehampton University.
Free School Meals for Primary School Kids Doesn't Go Far Enough | Muhammed Hussain Reviewed by Student Voices on 17:24 Rating: