A £40m trial is underway in County Durham and the East London borough of Newham that enables pupils to have free lunches. Children's behaviour, health and academic standards will be closely monitored to see how they are affected, and if it is successful then other parts of the country may soon benefit from the scheme.
The trial coincides with new nutrient-based standards for lunches that secondary schools have to follow. The same standards are already operational in primary schools across England, and they specify the amount of energy, fat, saturated fat, non-milk extrinsic sugars, salt, carbohydrate, protein, fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C, foliate, calcium, iron and zinc each meal should contain.
Children's Secretary Ed Balls commented "I encourage all families who are entitled to a free school meal to claim this valuable support. For those who are not eligible, school meals are still a great deal and give parents good value for money. We know from recent research by the School Food Trust that parents with two children could save over £1,000 in a school year if they chose school meals - as well as the reassurance that their children are eating good quality, healthy food."
If the scheme is as successful as the government hopes, it is estimated that it would cost up to £1bn to make all school meals free to pupils.