Cuts could serve up an end to free healthy school dinners for infants

The Guardian is reporting that concerns are growing over the future of the government’s programme to provide free nutritious hot meals to four- to seven-year-olds.

As part of the chancellor’s autumn spending review, in which all areas of public expenditure are in scope for cuts, the Department for Education will be drawing up detailed plans for making savings. Although overall school funding, including pupil premium rates, will be protected on a per-pupil basis, the budget for the universal infant free school meals programme is not ring fenced…

Part of the problem is cost, with heads struggling to keep meals nutritious within budget. In 2013 deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced the introduction of the free school meals programme to all pupils in reception, year 1 and year 2, to be rolled out from September 2014. The government pays £2.30 a meal based on how many pupils eat school lunches on a given “census” day. So getting as many pupils as possible in front of plates on that date matters…

And some small and rural schools are providing dinners at a loss. Despite a government grant last year – reduced from £3,000 in 2014-15 to £2,300 this year – and a capital fund to which schools can apply for extra support, these primaries are still having to subsidise meals policy out of their teaching and learning budgets…

But even some larger schools are unable to provide meals within budget – and from April, lunchtime staff will have to be paid more with the increase in the minimum wage to £7.20, making school budgets even tighter…

Having to make up a funding shortfall on dinners means some heads can’t afford other interventions…

The DfE emphasises its commitment to nutritious school food but has not said that infant free school meals funding will be protected in the spending review. “We believe that every child, regardless of their background, should have the same opportunities,” says a DfE spokesman. “No child should be hindered because they are not eating a nutritious meal at lunchtime…”

More at: Cuts could serve up an end to free healthy school dinners for infants

 

As the full article makes clear, one of the main issues is that, as many forecast from day one, this policy is undermining the pupil premium policy because parents no longer have to register in order to receive free meals and hence schools are losing large amounts of money there too. 

For that and other reasons that have been rehearsed many times on this site, this policy was surely badly thought out, both in principle and in practice, but what should happen next?

Should it be funded even further to make it work properly, or scrapped with the money invested in more targeted help instead?

Please tell us what you think in the comments or via Twitter…

 

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