Expansion of Hot School Meals Programme 'really important step forward'

The scheme will be expanded to all remaining DEIS schools this September, with plans to introduce it to all primary schools next year
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

10.00 30 Mar 2023

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Expansion of Hot School Meals...

Expansion of Hot School Meals Programme 'really important step forward'

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

10.00 30 Mar 2023

Share this article

Thousands of primary school children are set to benefit from the Government's free Hot School Meals Programme.

The scheme will be expanded to all DEIS schools for this September.

From 2024 a roll-out will begin to all remaining primary schools, with a universal programme to be in place by 2030.


The programme has an annual budget of over €94 million, and supports more than 1,600 schools benefitting over 260,000 children.

Paddy Lavelle is General-Secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland.

He told Newstalk Breakfast this is a really important initiative.

"I think it's a fantastic idea and it's something that we have wanted for an awful long time," he said.

"I think that the research says that when school meals are provided, students are well-looked after in school, they come on time and they're not distracted.

"It's a very important initiative in our DEIS schools where it's happening at the moment.

"Those schools that currently don't have it, through this method, are going to get it now.

"I think that's a really important step forward".

'Students came to school earlier'

Mr Lavelle said this means children will concentrate better in school.

"I'd love to see the rates increased, particularly for breakfast," he said.

"I was talking to a school principal just today, who was telling me that when they brought in the school meals they brought the buses in earlier, the students came earlier to school.

"They got something to eat in the morning and they were able to concentrate on their work then.

"It's a very clear achievement to have breakfast, no matter what the cost of it is".

Asked if it should be targeted at certain schools, Mr Lavelle said there is a responsibility to look after all students.

"I would be very hopeful about this, because it means that it becomes part of the strategy for Social Protection, to realise that they have a responsibility for all children in schools - not just the children in need.

"When that becomes systemic, it means the schools will have to build up their capacity to provide school meals," he added.

'Relieve pressure on families'

Children's charity Barnardos has said the move is "extremely welcome."

"At a time when some parents are having to skip meals and are constantly worried about being able to provide their children with sufficient food these plans could make a real difference going forward," the chairy said in a statement.

"It will help relieve pressure on families and also ensure that children will get at least one nutritious meal a day.

"From our own work, we know that not all children living in poverty and experiencing deprivation attend DEIS schools, so the target of a free hot school meal for every primary school child by 2030 is extremely welcome.

"Going forward it is important to next tackle holiday hunger, looking at steps the government can take to address those periods when children are not in school, potentially extending meals programme to existing community services and local organisations where possible," it added.

Main image: Children at a primary school eating lunch in September 2015. Picture by: NorthScape / Alamy Stock Photo

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