Wellington principal hits back at David Seymour over potentially axing free school lunches

A Wellington principal has hit back at David Seymour and urged the Government to keep the free school lunch program, saying it teaches children life lessons and it's a "critical" form of support.   

The programme, Ka Ora, Ka Ako, could be on the chopping block after Associate Education Minister David Seymour said he's reviewing the scheme and described it as wasteful public spending. 

But if Seymour does decide to cut the program, which feeds 220,000 students - about a quarter of all students – it will be a broken election promise from Prime Minister Christopher Luxon.  

"We are supporters of the program and it will continue to improve each and every year under our National Government," Luxon said during the election campaign. 

The programme costs about $325 million annually and Seymour says 10,000 lunches are wasted every day and there was no hard evidence it improved school attendance or achievement. 

 But Arakura School Principal Seletute Mila hit back at Seymour telling AM on Tuesday morning it's about giving all children a fair and equal chance to learn.   

"I suppose for me, the thing is our children didn't choose a life of poverty and so what do we do about that? Do we make our children pay for their parent's situation? Or do we just create a fair and equitable education system that allows all children to achieve their potential to succeed," Mila told AM. 

Mila said some of their parents are living in really difficult times, working multiple jobs and long hours just to keep the household going.   

"The work that we do at Arakura School takes the pressure off these hardworking parents, ensuring that their job is just to get the children to school and we provide the food," she said.  

"We also have breakfast in school, so that kind of support means no child is disadvantaged and I think that is the responsibility of the Government to ensure all children succeed." 

The lunch in school scheme offers two types of programmes. One is an internal process where schools make their own lunches and an external process where lunches are made away from the school.  

Arakura School has done both programmes, but Mila said the internal scheme has been a game changer for them.  

The school now employs a qualified chef who runs the kitchen and develops a menu alongside the students and community.  

"By switching to that internal model, we have next to no wastage now," she told AM co-host Lloyd Burr.  

"I think what the minister needs to do is to have a look at where this program is working successfully across the country rather than trying to axe it entirely because doing that effectively is saying that it's okay for our children to pay the price of poverty in this country."  

The internal scheme has allowed the school to reduce waste and help kids learn life lessons as they set the tables and sit down and eat together. 

"We're able to integrate the lunches program with our local curriculum and so our kids are learning about more sustainable ways of growing food," she explains.  

"They see through that whole process, from garden to preparing the food, serving the food and then doing all the cleanup at the end. 

"There's so many life skills that come with having the internal model at our school." 

Watch the full interview in the video above.