SCHOOL children in Wigan could benefit from free school meals according to a new report.
The study, piloted in two areas of England revealed that offering free school meals to everyone can help close the gap between rich and poor pupils.
In Wigan, which has a large number of children eligible for free school meals, the results could be significant if the pilot leads to the scheme being rolled out nationally.
The study looking at the effects of extending free meals to all in two pilot areas of England suggests primary pupils advance by two months on average as a result.
Advances were most pronounced in pupils from poorer homes. Researchers put the attainment boost down to improvements in pupils’ productivity.
The report suggested the nutritional content of school lunches was better than packed lunches. Better food has been linked previously with better behaviour.
Children were more likely to eat hot food, including vegetables and carbohydrates. They were also more likely to drink water rather than fizzy drinks.
In June the Wigan Evening Post reported that thousands of primary and secondary school pupils could be missing out on free school meals.
The figures show that in January this year, only 4,637 of primary school pupils known to be eligible for free school meals were taking them - 17.9 per cent of the primary school population.
Even less pupils in secondary schools are taking up free school meals, with only 2,791 of 18,501 receiving them in January this year (15.1 per cent).
Anthony Mohammed, Head of Service, Customer Support at Wigan Council, said: “Parents who are on low income can apply for free school meals for their children.
Broadly speaking, they are entitled to free school meals if they receive Income Support; Income Based Jobseekers Allowance; Income Related Employment and Support Allowance; support under part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999; or Child Tax Credit, although some conditions do apply.
“To apply, parents are advised to visit Wigan Council’s website and to complete our free school meals application form or contact us by phone on 01942 828644.