One Woman's Week: Born Free

21-10-08

By Karen Fenessey

AS an educationalist, it is my solemn duty to defend the state of our children's stomachs. Therefore it is incumbent upon me to point at all of those who support universal free school meals and call them 'Joey'.

The school dinner ticket is a much loved institution that has done this country a great service. Most of us have fond memories of using shiny coins to pay for school lunches while the more raggedy children handed over their jolly little ticket. Not only did this help us find our place within the school's complicated social hierarchy, it also meant the poorer children didn't starve to death. The next time you're greeted at the till in Sainsbury's and offered help with your packing, remember – you've got the school dinner ticket to thank. And I don't mean to stereotype. I understand there are people, like Richard Branson, who are now virtually normal even though they started out from nothing. And let's not forget, poor children are often very good at PE.

But the idea that all children will want to eat the same thing, regardless of their parents' income, is preposterous. It will not make youngsters healthier – it will simply confuse them. How would you like it if someone marched up to you and told you that you were now a lesbian? That's what it's like for children when they find out they're on free lunches. Let us face the unpalatable truth: some children enjoy Monster Munch, while others prefer a Kettle Chip.

Perhaps it would be better for all concerned if, instead of a ticket, the poorer children wore a free-meal tee-shirt? They can then be easily segregated and no longer will young Liam Murphy be tempted to come to school wearing his Liverpool football top – not if he wants to rid his tummy of that hollow, nauseating sensation, anyway.

But, joking aside, perhaps my tee-shirt initiative will finally force low income parents to admit how they are perpetuating these divisions within our schools and, yes, our hearts. It could be just the kick up the backside they all need to get out of the bookies and do some bloody work for a change.

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