Free School Meals

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:15 pm on 20th October 2009.

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Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools) 1:15 pm, 20th October 2009

That is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to the local authority, the diocese and the PCT. They are all key players in ensuring that we can deliver healthy school meals for our pupils.

There are excellent signs that children and families think that the meals are worth having. My hon. Friend should take credit for that, as she fought hard to get a free school meals pilot. I am pleased indeed that one of them is in Durham. As I said earlier, I am very much looking forward to visiting Durham, hopefully later this year.

I shall turn to the issues my hon. Friend outlined on the next steps for the pilots. I would like to be clear at this stage that we are not making any decisions about future roll-out. We shall test each pilot throughout its two-year process and a full evaluation will be carried out by the National Centre for Social Research. The evaluation will determine whether the additional benefits resulting from the pilot offer value for money in terms of costs to schools, and it will also determine whether the current eligibility rules are right.

In closing, I again congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. I believe that we can all agree that the health of our students is of the utmost importance. I am glad that we are taking steps towards a healthier lifestyle for all our pupils and students-steps that are already getting a positive reaction. It is important to monitor the pilots closely and to ensure that a full evaluation is made at the end of the two years. We need to keep good food for our children and young people high up on the agenda.