DCU Educational Disadvantage Centre Involved in Recommendations for Hot School Meals Programme
Starting this September, the Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys announced free hot school meals for all pupils in DEIS primary schools across Ireland. This is part of a phased universal approach, where every child in primary and post-primary education will receive a hot meal by 2030.
The expansion of the programme to all DEIS primary schools and special schools will mean by the end of this year, over 170,000 children in 1,000 schools will receive hot meals in school every day.
This announcement from the Minister arose following recommendations published by an independent national evaluation of the School Meals Programme. Professor Paul Downes, Director of the Educational Disadvantage Centre in DCU Institute of Education was an expert adviser for this national evaluation.
Furthermore ten years ago in 2013, the DCU Educational Disadvantage Centre established The National Strategy Group for Hunger Prevention in Schools, which included Barnardos, Children’s Rights Alliance, Focus Ireland, FORSA, INTO, Primary Principals Network and the National Parents Council Primary. Its aim was to advocate for hot meals as part of a national strategy to prevent hunger.
Commenting on the expansion of the Hot Meals programme, Professor Paul Downes said;
"Hot meals for pupils in all DEIS primary schools nationally is a landmark initiative to be greatly welcomed as part of a wider strategy for prevention of child poverty in Ireland. Put simply, children going hungry in schools is an intolerable situation for any society. This is a vital issue for children and young people’s wellbeing, motivation, concentration and learning, health and social development, to engage them in school and society. It is excellent news that the Irish State has now given this long overdue national policy commitment, so that hot meals in schools will be a routine fact of school life, as it is in many countries across Europe and internationally."
Funding for hot meals in schools has increased from €1.5 million in its first pilot year in 2019 to almost €25 million for 2021 and 2022, currently providing hot meals to 300 schools, with approximately 55,000 children receiving them daily.
The independent national evaluation of school hot meals highlighted that children had more energy, behaved better, had improved psychological and physical wellbeing, improved attendance, enjoyed the social aspect of eating together, connected better with each other and got on better with teachers.