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‘You can’t have good achievement if you have hungry kids’ — future of free school lunches up in air

20 March, 2024

Interviews by Caeden Tipler and Nicholas Lindstrom, adapted by Joel Armstrong

Health experts say without Ka Ora Ka Ako, the programme providing free lunches in schools, students relying on the service will fall behind academically.

Recently, ACT Party leader and Associate Education Minister, David Seymour, said the Ka Ora Ka Ako Healthy School Lunches Programme would be under review ahead of the coalition government’s Budget announcement.

The programme, launched by the previous Labour government, provides free lunches to over 220,000 students in Aotearoa — a quarter of all New Zealand students, in lower decile schools.

However, Seymour has called the programme, which costs $325 million annually, is “wasteful,” “unaffordable,” and a “marketing scheme” by Labour to get re-elected into government.

Research Fellow at Te Pūkenga, Dr Pippa McKelvie-Sebileau, told 95bFM’s The Wire hunger diminishes student achievement.

“Students who say that they are going hungry due to a lack of money have a real achievement lag.”

“You can’t have good achievement if you have hungry kids.”

In the 2022 Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA) study, which tests how external influences impact the academic achievement of 15-year-olds in OECD countries, New Zealand recorded its worst results in all academic areas tested; reading, maths, and science.

New Zealand also had the second-highest number of students with food insecurity in the OECD.

Co-chair of Health Coalition Aotearoa, Professor Lisa Te Morenga, told The Wire she is open to Ka Ora Ka Ako being reviewed to make it more efficient, but is concerned about isolating students in need.

“How are we going to identify kids who go without food one or more times a week?”

“It is quite stigmatising for kids who are singled out as needing support.”

Te Morenga believes regardless of a student’s background or financial situation, they should have access to a free lunch at school.

“This programme models healthy foods; they receive fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”

“Children are more likely to try new things, foods they haven't tried before, especially fruits and vegetables when they see their peers eating them.”

Health Coalition Aotearoa has launched a petition, urging the government to continue supporting Ka Ora Ka Ako.

Listen to the full interview with Dr Pippa McKelvie-Sebileau

Listen to the full interview with Prof Lisa Te Morenga


Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air