HUNDREDS of school children in Leeds now have easier access to healthy food thanks to a new initiative targeting disadvantaged pupils.
Pre-ordered 'grab bags'- consisting of a healthy sandwich, piece of fruit and juice or milk drink - are now being made available to youngsters who take free school meals.
Earlier this year, Education Leeds tested out a pilot project to make well-balanced snack meals more readily available.
Following the scheme's success, it was officially launched at Roundhay School on Tuesday.
Billy Broadbent, Roundhay School's director of support services, said the more accessible lunchtime menu is very popular with students who previously might have opted out of queuing for healthier meals in favour of a fast food fix like crisps or chips.
He said: "We started the pilot scheme at the beginning of this year as a way of trying to increase the general uptake of school meals, particularly for those entitled to free school meals. It means students can pre-order their meal at morning break and then collect it at lunchtime.
The new service also means people don't have to queue up and wait for their order, which at Roundhay was the major problem.
"Now we've broken down that particular barrier we are looking at ways of rolling out the project further so that pupils who wish to do so may be able to eat their lunch at morning break if they are particularly hungry."
According to Mr Broadbent, the take-up of free school lunches at the school is already up 10 per cent to 68 per cent of those who are entitled.
Other schools now participating in the new initiative include Allerton Grange School, Allerton High School, Brigshaw High School and Language College, Cockburn, Lawnswood School and Otley Prince Henry's Grammar School.
The scheme was originally inspired by Leeds Metropolitan University research which suggested that many children who are eligible for free school meals fail to claim them and then snack on unhealthy food during the day.
The study also found that young people who are eligible for a free school meal often choose to not take up the offer because they would rather not queue for lunch, prefer to be with friends who bring a packed lunch from home, leave the school grounds for lunch or simply don't want to be identified as a free school meal pupil.
Chris Edwards, chief executive of Education Leeds, said: "School meals make a significant contribution to the health and learning of our children and young people and this new scheme will help ensure even more in our secondary schools are benefiting. We are always looking at new ways to increase the uptake of our free school meals and I am confident this new scheme will help us achieve this."
Education Leeds will now continue working with the city's other secondary schools and academies to encourage them to also sign up to the scheme.
The new project complements a range of other activities encouraging families to take up their free school meal entitlement and help improve their children's health and concentration. Earlier this year, five videos were made by young people and launched at Mount St Mary's Catholic High School, to be shown in schools and doctors' surgeries, to promote free school meals and highlight their benefits.
Trio in squad for builders' Olympics
Three former students from Leeds College of Building have been selected for a UK squad for an international skills competition – WorldSkills London 2011.
Painter and decorator Tom Waudby, plumber Andrew Gunson and tiler Harry Coyle all completed apprenticeships at the college in 2010 and will now start intensive six-month training before finding out if they have made it into the team that will compete next October against 50 other nations.
Tom is from Bramley and works for Shipley painting and decorating specialists Bagnalls. He said: "Selection has been really tough. We had to beat thousands of students from colleges all over the UK to get to this stage but it's such a great feeling to have made the UK squad."
More than 150,000 people are expected to visit the event in June and the skills represented by Squad UK will range from electrical installation, mobile robotics and web design to cooking, hairdressing and landscape gardening.
Ian Billyard, principal at the college, said: "Tom, Andrew and Harry deserve their places in the squad and we are delighted that the skills they learnt here in Leeds may be on display to the world next year. This UK Squad includes the best of the best and the fact that three of our former students have made it so far is a credit to them, their tutors and their employers."
The trio marked their inclusion in the squad by travelling with the 70 other members to the House of Commons for a special reception.
Leeds College of Building, established in 1960, is the only specialist further education construction college in the UK. Based at seven sites, it has 7,000 students. It was one the first in the region to be awarded full accreditation for the new quality standard, helping meet employer needs.
A lesson in rights at scene of Holocaust
Pupils from a Leeds school travelled to the scene of unspeakable crimes against humanity as part of a course in social justice.
Sixth form pupils from Allerton Grange school, in Moortown, stayed in Krakow's former Jewish ghetto of Kazimierz after travelling to Poland for a four-day visit.
The trip to Eastern Europe was the culmination of a human rights and social justice programme run by the Bradford-based Prism Youth Project.
It involved finding out about the events leading up to the Holocaust, how it happened – and the tragic consequences.
The students stayed in a hostel in the heart of the city's old Jewish quarter and their itinerary included trips to nearby Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps, where an estimated 2.5 million people died in the gas chambers.
Nick Dutton-Taylor, social science teacher at Allerton Grange, said: "As a school we were very privileged to have been selected to take part in this programme and it proved to be a life-changing experience for all our students.
"Birkenau is the larger of the two places and, unlike the main camp at Auschwitz, which has been converted into a museum, it is more or less in the same state it was found in when it was liberated in 1945.
Even though it was uncomfortable and upsetting viewing, this particular part of out visit will probably linger in the memory longer than any other aspect of the trip."
The human rights and social justice programme is backed by a range of organisations including Amnesty International, Bradford University's Peace Studies Departmen, the Anti-Nazi League, and the Liverpool Slavery Museum.