“Free school meals have made a massive difference” says Rotherham headteacher

The headteacher of a Rotherham school says free school meals over the holidays have made a “massive difference” to pupils who experience food poverty.

By Danielle Andrews, Local Democracy Reporter
Tuesday, 6th April 2021, 2:27 pm

Pepe Di’iasio has been the head of Wales High School in Kiveton for nine years.

Although child poverty in the Wales ward is well below the Rotherham and UK average, Pepe and his staff still see pupils who experience some degree of food poverty – this is not a problem only seen in more deprived areas.

“Our school is a very ‘mixed’ intake,” Pepe told the local democracy reporting service.

The school.

“We do have students who are amongst the poorest in the country -however we have what I would consider a well ‘balanced’ intake.

“Yes we regularly see students who are in food poverty and arrive at school hungry.

“It was clear over the last year the massive difference free school meals being provided in school holidays made to those families.”

Rotherham Council recently became one of the first in the country to support a campaign for the right to food to be enshrined in UK law.

The local authority has also praised footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign, which forced the government to U-turn on its policy not to provide meals for to children from low-income families in school holidays in October 2020.

Pepe adds that free breakfasts of porridge, fruit and toast have been provided for pupils, as “it is clear that students will not be able to learn if they are hungry.”

The reputation of food education in Rotherham is a tarnished one – in 2006, Jamie Oliver’s healthy school dinners campaign attracted criticism from parents, and pictures of parents giving their children chips through the fence at Rawmarsh Community School became synonymous with the borough.

However, the tide is changing – Pepe says that food studies is a “massively popular subject” at the school, so much so that ingredients are provided for pupils who cannot bring their own from home.

“We consider ‘cooking’ a vital life skill and are always looking for different ways to celebrate cooking,baking and hospitality through competitions and fun activities.”