Today’s Star columnist: Nick Clegg MP

Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg
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This week thousands of South Yorkshire pupils went back to school after the long, occasionally hot, Summer holidays.

Thanks to some recent changes I have fought for in Westminster, I’m delighted families have more reasons than ever to be cheerful their children are returning to the classroom – other than not having to think of things to keep them occupied!

From this week over 46,000 local children in South Yorkshire will be tucking into a free lunch every school day. That’s because all schools in England have been provided with funding to offer free meals for all children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2. I think this is one of the most important changes in our education system for a generation.

Free school meals will improve children’s education, make sure they eat more healthy food, save families an average of £400 a year per child, cutting cut the cost of living for families.

This policy has been five years in the making with pilot schemes showing real classroom benefits. Students were on average two months ahead of their peers in areas where school meals were not offered. There was also marked progress in the number of children who hit target levels in Maths and English at Key Stage One.

But it is not all about results. I welcome the social benefits of groups sitting together for lunch. Eating with friends is important and I want it to become something youngsters look forward to. The pilots showed sitting down for lunch broadened children’s social skills and taught table manners.

Liberal Democrats have made sure the Government has put money where its mouth is. £150million has been made available to build new kitchens or increase dining capacity. In Sheffield £1.1m has been spent on improvements including new kitchens for several schools.

Universal free school meals would never have happened without the Liberal Democrats in Government. I’m proud that these measures will improve children’s education, make sure they eat more healthy food, and save parents money to cut the cost of living. It’s all part of how the Liberal Democrats are creating a fairer society and opportunity for everyone.