Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Free School Meals - a defence of Nick Clegg

Having worked in education, and about to start my teacher training, I find the row about the rollout of Free School Meals incredibly frustrating. Whether it's Nick Harvey who seems (perhaps rightly) put out that he wasn't given fair warning of the change, or Labour calling out LibDem hypocrisy in Southwark one thing is clear to me - they're all missing one very clear point. 

A study was carried out, and it found that young people in modern Britain are falling behind because they can't rely on a warm meal every day. That's shocking, and I for one am glad that Clegg is standing up and doing something about it. 

But that isn't all. I spoke to somebody on the doorstep who told me how awful it was that children arrived at Primary School not knowing how to write their name - I couldn't bring myself to tell her that I'd seen children who had to be chaperoned to the loo as they couldn't take care of themselves. Or that there were Primary School age children who fell asleep at desks because they'd stayed up late the night before playing Call of Duty. It seems to me that there's been a horrible forgetfulness surrounding Primary education and the state of our society. 

One of the things I applaud most about New Labour is their Sure Start policy. I think it's made a difference in incredibly deprived communities like the one I grew up in and now represent. But it doesn't go the whole way. Regularly, I've seen students who aren't getting even their basic needs met at home - whether that be decent meals, clean clothing or emotional support. The Free School Meals policy won't address all of those problems (we'd need a far more radical reform to combat that issue - an issue that Liberal Democrats shouldn't shy away from) but what it will do is ensure that the very basic level of care is given by the state. It will also mean an end to the stigma attached to 'Free School Meals pupils' by their classmates. 

What's happened around this policy is one of the things that I find most difficult about the way that politics works. This policy will make a great difference to young people up and down the country, and it will stop the singling out of children from lower economic backgrounds in front of their classmates. But no, it's a slanging match about who knew first*, or it's an argument about whether it had been referred back three times in the nineties. I think we'd be a much happier party, if just occasionally, we sat back and thought that we'd done a good job. 

This is just one such occasion. There, I said it. Well done, us. 

* In fairness to Nick Harvey, I imagine that what was a perfectly reasonable comment about not knowing about the decision was taken out of context - plus ├ža change.

1 comment:

  1. Great article Sam. I hope we're all watching what Tory Somerset proposes to do to Sure Start childrens Centres including in Frome soon.