Weekend Herald

Free-meals snag eats up funds: Nats

Insisting on feeding all students seen as ‘poorly targeted’ approach

- Michael Neilson

National is questionin­g priorities of the Government’s free school lunches programme after a school was turned down because only half of its students were in need. Every student was required to take part.

Another school requested lunches for more than a quarter of its 1411 students, but decided to opt out because to accept would have resulted in a huge amount of food waste.

The lunch in schools programme, Ka Ora, Ka Ako, is offered to schools and kura that fall within the highest 25 per cent of socio-economic disadvanta­ge nationally and where students face the greatest barriers that can affect access to education, wellbeing and achievemen­t.

Ka Ora, Ka Ako requires schools to provide lunches to all students, which the Ministry of Education says is to “minimise any stigma associated with food insecurity”.

“Everyone receives a lunch and there is no need to single out those who need it more than others,” the policy says.

But National’s education spokesman Paul Goldsmith said struggling students were already likely experienci­ng a form of stigma, and if there was a need they should get lunches.

As of March, 832 schools were taking part in the programme, feeding 199,503 students. That would expand to 964 schools and kura by the end of the year, covering more than 25 per cent of school students.

Informatio­n the ministry provided Goldsmith showed three schools applied but decided not to join because not all their students needed the lunches.

One school requested 300 to 400 lunches for its 820 students. Another asked for two to three for its 97 students.

Waitakere College in Auckland had requested 400 lunches for its 1411 students. Principal Mark Shanahan told the Herald it was a “good initiative” but did not suit the school’s needs at the time.

The 400 students were being supported through other programmes the school was involved in, including the charity KidsCan.

“It is a good initiative for the Government and the last thing I’d do is criticise it, we just didn’t want to take the risk up to 1000 meals a day would not be needed.”

Goldsmith said he was not

opposed in principle to resources going to give school lunches to those in genuine need, but the Government’s approach was “very poorly targeted”.

Other areas in the education sector were in critical need of funding, such as the rise in truancy and support for children learning with disabiliti­es. Meanwhile $676m over the next four years was being spent on lunch in schools and still not reaching those in need, Goldsmith said.

“They should do away with the universal policy and target it to those in genuine need.

“There are limited resources . . .

this is a lot of money and takes resources from other areas.”

Education Minister Chris Hipkins referred the Herald to the ministry for comment.

Ministry deputy secretary sector enablement and support Helen Hurst said stigma and bullying were barriers to children’s engagement in education and willingnes­s to access support. The universal approach also removed the risk of some in need missing out, as determinin­g material hardship was “not always obvious”.

Research had shown many hungry or at-risk children did not participat­e in targeted meal programmes but did in universal ones, she said. The programme also increased participat­ion and benefits in other areas, such as in dental health, better concentrat­ion, and reducing risks of heart disease and diabetes.

“We are receiving feedback from schools that the tikanga of children eating together is helping build social cohesion/a sense of community.”

Schools that did not use the programme knew their communitie­s and how to serve them best, she said. Schools were encouraged to share any surplus lunches received.

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 ?? Photo / Bevan Conley ?? Some schools opted out of the Government’s school-lunches programme for fear of a huge waste of food.
Photo / Bevan Conley Some schools opted out of the Government’s school-lunches programme for fear of a huge waste of food.

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