Up to 245 new schools & 47,000 extra children to benefit from this year
Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar & Minister for Education & Skills Richard Bruton have announced a €3 million expansion of the school meals programme from September.
Up to 245 schools will either join the programme or see their services expanded with around 47,000 pupils benefiting from school lunches or breakfasts.
The Ministers made the announcement at St Joseph’s Secondary School in Stanhope Street in Dublin which is receiving funding under the school meals programme from the Department of Social Protection for this academic year to provide breakfast and lunch to 216 pupils.
- €1.7 million will provide breakfast and lunch clubs from September in 65 newly-designated DEIS schools, with a combined enrolment of around 12,000 children.
- €1.5 million will provide breakfasts from September in up to 180 non-DEIS schools benefiting around 35,000 children.
Minister Varadkar said: “I’m delighted to announce this further expansion of the school meals programme which has the potential to benefit an extra 47,000 pupils in 245 schools, on top of the 200,000 children already benefiting. My Department is currently making contact with the applicable schools and I encourage them to all sign up. The school meals programme is a top priority for me as Minister for Social Protection. Diet, long-term health and the ability to learn are very closely linked, and it’s one of the single most effective ways to set a child up for the day, and for life.
“My Department leads the way on social inclusion. We don’t just make pension and welfare payments, we also help people to find jobs so they can lift themselves out of poverty. We support people to return to education and set up their own businesses so they can have a better life, and we fund important programmes like free travel and school meals.
“The School Meals Programme makes a real difference. It improves attendance and concentration in school which in turn is good for discipline and improves educational outcomes for children. We all know that intervention early is more effective and less costly in the long-run. And there is no better time to start than with breakfast. Up until now, the school meals programme has focused on schools in disadvantages areas. That will continue to be the case with the expansion we are announcing today. However, most disadvantaged children do not attend designated schools. So that’s why I want to extend school breakfasts to all schools that want it over the next decade.”
Minister Bruton said: “Every child has to have the opportunity to fulfil their potential, regardless of their circumstances. Education has a unique capacity to break down the cycles of disadvantage. The basic aim of this Government is to sustain our economic progress and use it to build a fair and compassionate society. No area is more important to this vision than education.
“With the additional funding I secured in the budget we will be able to bring 79 schools into DEIS for the first time from next September, and provide 30 schools already within DEIS with additional supports. This will be the first expansion of the programme since 2009.
“Today’s announcement that we are expanding the school meals programme is a further demonstration of our commitment to tackle educational disadvantage and to making sure that every child can get the best start in life.”
This announcement comes on top of the additional €2.5 million allocated by Minister Varadkar in Budget 2017 to expand the school meals programme to existing DEIS schools and includes another 21 DEIS schools benefiting around 5,800 additional children.
The school meals programme currently benefits around 200,000 children in more than 1,400 schools nationwide by providing breakfast, lunch, or a combination of the two. Minister Varadkar increased funding for the overall scheme by 14% in Budget 2017 to €47.7 million. There is clear evidence that it raises nutrition levels in children which in turn is linked to the ability to learn and benefit from education.
Some 35,000 children in non-DEIS schools will benefit from this measure. Priority will be provided to those schools where there is most need. The Department of Social protection is currently engaging with the Department of Education and Skills on this with a view to making contact with the relevant schools. The schools identified will very shortly be invited to provide school meals from September 2017.