A college in Norwich believes a government policy which excludes further education students from receiving free school meals is forcing some young people to cut short their learning.

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City College Norwich, on Ipswich Road, has thrown its weight behind the national No Free Lunch? campaign launched by the Association of Colleges.

It is protesting against a government policy which sees students aged 16 to 18 at sixth forms funded to receive a free meal while those of the same age at further education colleges are not.

Corrienne Peasgood, principal at the college, said: “We are talking about hundreds of our students who are missing out on free meals. That’s very difficult for them. These young people are coming from particularly disadvantaged backgrounds. If they are struggling to make ends meet, they are less likely to want to continue in their education.

“We’re not asking for any more than their counterparts at sixth forms are getting. We’re asking for parity.”

Many of those student would have been used to getting free meals at lunchtime throughout their schooling.

City College said, on top of the withdrawal of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), the change could prove particularly difficult.

Jeni-Marie Pittuck, president of the college’s students’ union who has been spearheading its support of the campaign, said: “If you’re hungry, it’s difficult to focus on your lessons. You’re not going to achieve. I know how angry and annoyed I get if I don’t get my lunch on time. People do achieve more if they have had that helping hand.

“If I couldn’t afford to eat, I wouldn’t want to come to college.”

The college has been encouraging students to sign the petition and show their support with badges. The University of East Anglia and Great Yarmouth College have also given their support, Miss Pittuck said.

She added: “It’s an easy campaign. No-one’s got any arguments against it.”

The AOC launched its campaign last summer and so far more than 5,000 people have signed a government e-petition. If it attracts at least 100,000 signatures it could be debated the House of Commons by MPs.

Martin Doel, AOC chief executive, said: “A modest amount of students from some of the most vulnerable areas of society could depend on at least one decent meal a day. Therefore, I am pleased to be working in partnership with MPs, college principals and students across England to help to fight this inequality.”

Supporters are asked to go to http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31069 to sign up and use the hashtag #nofreelunch to talk about the issue on Twitter.

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