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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 June 2007, 09:53 GMT 10:53 UK
Free school meals 'for deprived'
school meals being served
Free meals will be given to children in P1 to P3 classes
The Scottish Executive has unveiled plans to provide free school meals to children living in some of the most deprived areas of the country.

Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop has outlined a 5m pilot scheme to provide free meals for P1 to P3 pupils.

The trials are set to begin in selected schools from October and will run until March 2008.

An estimated 17% of schoolchildren in Scotland receive free school meals while child poverty affects about 23%.

Ms Hyslop said the pilot scheme was about addressing that discrepancy.

She said: "The pilot itself will bring its own short-term benefits in terms of health and nutrition for some of our poorest children.

By targeting our youngest pupils in the most deprived areas, we hope to make a big difference
Fiona Hyslop
Education Secretary

"The main aim is for our youngest children to develop a taste for healthy foods and the social skills that come from sitting down to eat with friends every day."

The scheme will also examine the effect that universal provision of free nutritious school meals has on pupils' health.

Ministers will look at the effect it has on eating habits in school and at home and on the pupils' views on school meals.

The practical issues faced by schools, such as kitchen and dining hall capacity, along with the development of social skills will also be assessed.

All children

John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said the sooner a policy of universal free school meals, the better.

He said: "We already know from experience in Hull, and further afield in Finland, that universal provision has a dramatic effect on the take-up of healthy school meals and on pupils' concentration and behaviour, so the sooner the new Scottish government rolls out free school meals to all children the better.

"It is also vital that ministers ensure that targeting the initial pilots so narrowly does not undermine the potential value of a universal approach."

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