I read an interesting piece today about the perils of assuming kids in higher decile schools are being fed.
It resonated with me and gave me reason to ponder my own experiences and reflect on what opting into programmes can mean for those kids on the receiving end of the help.
There were (and are) no deciles in UK schools, but if were to hazard a guess I would say it would have been a decile 7-8 school.
Lunch time was a lesson in class and wealth.
The UK school lunches programme was subsidised so there was a small charge for the fabulous hot meals provided – one my parents could pay and were happy to do so. And if your family didn’t earn enough, you got a ticket to say you were entitled to FREE MEALS.
It was great!
There was food for all, in every school, and it was hearty and healthy. No burgers and chips back then, it was all Shepherds’ Pie and peas gfollowed by sponge and custard, and a second helping if you were lucky.
But it did have a down side that only really struck me again today after reading Coley’s article.
Them and Us
At lunch time, it was totally clear to everyone who was who in the poverty pecking order; I remember my best friend’s true mortification every day as she handed her free meals lunch ticket over in front of the whole waiting queue and all of the seated kids in order to get her meal.
They could not have embarrassed her more, short of stamping her on the forehead with POOR.
The Mystical Lunch Boxes
And even then it had other complications. Not everyone took advantage of school meals. I remember those children that brought packed lunches. Cold food all packaged nicely in a lunch box and brought in each day. I had no idea why they had those. Why would you have cold food when hot food was on offer? It was a mystery to me, completely, but I did recognise that it was those kids that bused down that brought packed lunches, not us that bused up. And we sat in separate spaces – hot meals in one area, lunch boxes in another.
The divide was very clear.
So, I knew I was poorish because “the posh kids” ate cold food from a box. But I knew I wasn’t as poor as the ticket kids. They were very poor – the ticket told us that.
In short, at lunch times, my place in society’s pecking order was laid bare.
How it feels to be ‘othered’
As Coley Tangerina says “Let me tell you something about being part of a poor minority in a wealthy private or “well zoned” public school – if your classmates can’t tell your poor because of the weird shit you wear to school, they will tell when you’re asking for food in the mornings.”
Despite the passing of time and the change in my circumstances, I can feel my cheeks reddening even now remembering how I felt as I realised that the kids from my area were different to those that bused down. That I was different.
Was it even worse to be in the top stream with the kids with the proper uniforms? None of them wore uniforms that were never quite the right shades of blue, bought from the market or made by mum. I don’t know if it was worse than handing your food chit over every day, but it was certainly embarrassing enough to put me off uniforms for life.
These small thing tell a child that they are different to their classmates, and that those differences are beyond their control.
This is what it is like when a child is in a school where only some kids opt into the food programmes. Them and us.
What a rotten way for any child to feel.
There’s no easy answer, but the discussion surely cannot be over with this Weetbix opt-in half-cocked solution, can it?
Do it properly: Extend free food at school by Colin Espiner
Feed the Kids A Fact Sheet on the Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill