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Thousands of children 'missing out on free school meals'

Thousands of children are missing out on the free school meals to which they are entitled, the Education Minister has said.

Last year 97,517 pupils were eligible for the free dinners, but almost 20% did not take advantage of the service.

John O'Dowd said: "A school meal contributes to a child's healthy balanced diet, their growth and development, their educational performance and their long-term health and well-being.

"However, too many families are not accessing the free school meals they are entitled to."

Mr O'Dowd has urged working parents and guardians to check eligibility criteria with the Education Authority.

He added: "My Department is committed to raising standards in education and closing the achievement gap for young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds, and a healthy and nutritious school meal can make a significant contribution in helping deliver this.

"A child who is hungry may have difficulty concentrating in class and therefore be more likely to fall behind their peers if the issue is not addressed.

"In contrast, eating a healthy school meal can improve a child's concentration, their behaviour and ability to learn in class which will ultimately lead to improved educational outcomes."

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