A WREXHAM school has hosted the launch of a campaign calling for an increase in free school meals.

In Wales, children are arriving at secondary school with empty stomachs, too hungry to learn, forced to choose between eating breakfast or a proper lunch, while teaching staff are spending their own money to buy food for their poorest pupils.

That is the view of award-winning, grassroots community organising charity, TCC (Trefnu Cymunedol Cymru / Together Creating Communities).

Members of the charity – many of whom are themselves teaching assistants – have launched a Wales-wide Stop School Hunger campaign in Ysgol y Grango in Wrexham, calling on the Welsh Government to urgently increase the free school meals allowance by 80p.

This would mean a child could have breakfast and a proper lunch, delivering immediate relief to thousands of our poorest secondary school children.

It came after TCC members experienced young people coming into school hungry and spending their free school meals allowance as soon as they could on breakfast.

This meant the young people then couldn’t afford to eat a proper meal at lunchtime as well.

Stephen Garthwaite, headteacher of Ysgol y Grango and TCC member, said: “I have seen first-hand the way hunger is destroying our children’s futures.

“TCC research echoes other studies that demonstrate that free school meals are no longer doing the job they are meant to be doing, with teachers bearing the brunt of its shortcomings and propping up a failing system.

“Free school meals were first conceived during Edwardian times, to stop teachers from spending their own money to feed starving children who were unable to take advantage of the mandatory education on offer.

“Child poverty in today’s Wales means that teaching staff are returning to a bygone era and once again dipping into their own pockets to buy children food at school.

“Welsh Government needs to increase the allowance so that it can meet its obligations to provide adequate nutrition to pupils, as outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and its duties to comply with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.

“This will also help make the new curriculum a success and do much to meet objectives under the Child Poverty Strategy 2015. It’s high time we replace pupils’ hunger for food with a hunger for learning.”

Children eligible for free school meals are currently forced to make a difficult decision each and every day: either they use their allowance to fend off hunger by paying for breakfast, knowing they will forfeit a proper lunch and struggle to focus throughout afternoon lessons, or stay hungry and distracted throughout the morning until lunchtime.

The charity has said free school meals – the Welsh Government’s key anti-child poverty tool in secondary schools – falls short and is unable to cope with the extent of deprivation and inequality facing children in Wales.

The charity’s own research in north east Wales shows that, during term-time, over half of teaching staff buy food for some of the poorest pupils at school, with some feeding children on a weekly basis.

Meanwhile 18 per cent of pupils receiving free school meals, who have not eaten breakfast at home, cite reasons other than ‘not being a breakfast person’ or ‘running short of time’, or are unable or perhaps unwilling to explain why.

Teaching assistant Yvonne Girvan, said: “School hunger leaves its mark – one way or another – and I for one, find it impossible to turn a blind eye when a child arrives at school hungry, having had no breakfast.

“Most staff I know are doing the same, spending their own money on feeding children.

“A good breakfast shows in their work – it improves cognitive function around memory and school attendance, health and wellbeing.

“Being able to afford a breakfast as well as lunch would have a huge impact on the poorest children; that’s why as part of TCC we’re launching this campaign, and I urge the public to sign the petition and share their own stories.”

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “Ensuring all our school children fulfil their potential is a key priority for this government and we have a number of policies in place to help ensure none of our school children go hungry.

“Unlike in England, all primary schools in Wales can access free breakfast provision for their pupils. We are considering proposals on how this important policy can be further extended and will be making an announcement in due course.”

TCC works in Wrexham, Flintshire and Denbighshire. It is the oldest community organising charity in the UK.

TCC has a membership of more than 35 local schools, community organisations and faith groups, and has delivered a range of successful social justice campaigns, including on homelessness and funeral poverty.

Join the Stop School Hunger campaign www.tcc-wales.org.uk/stopschoolhunger