Free school lunch programme rolls out in Otago and Southland

Kids are better behaved in class once their school starts providing free lunches, the Education Minister says.

The programme is coming to Otago and Southland for the first time, the Government has announced. 

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says many will benefit.

"There will be jobs for around 30 people in Otago and Southland. There will be 18 schools with around 3000 students joining the programme - 11 of those have already begun serving their lunches," he told Newshub.

Hipkins says some parents have been keeping their kids home because they are embarrassed they cannot afford lunch.

"That's not okay, because it robs those kids of their educational opportunities. By providing a free and healthy lunch in schools, we can make sure that we're levelling the playing field and every kid is getting a good shot at learning." 

By the end of 2021, Hipkins says 200,000 kids will be in schools taking part in the pilot programme, up from 21,000 at the start of the year.

"Teachers have said to us the kids are more focused on their learning, there are fewer behavioural problems in their class. There's not a haves and have-nots with those who have a nice lunch and those who don't - that all disappears." 

Hipkins says the COVID-19 pandemic has added urgency to rolling support like this. The latest rollout will see the number of schools taking part rise from 42 to 18.\