Playing politics with school meals: beware of Cleggs bearing gifts (updated)

8 Apr

Update: 8 April 2014

More than 2,700 schools in England will need to improve kitchens to provide free meals for infant school children, according to new figures. Freedom of Information figures obtained by the BBC found this to be about one in three schools assessed so far….”


Update, 11 March 2014

What do you think of the DfE’s guidance and the competing views on whether schools will be ready on time or not (see comments below)?

Do let us know your thoughts…  


18 September 2013:

All pupils at state-funded infant schools in England are to be offered free school lunches from next September. 

This announcement will be welcomed by many parents and schools and will benefit children. Good quality, nutritious food is essential for their development and ensuring that all children, regardless of background, can eat well at proper, sit-down meals, and acquire the culture of doing so, is to be welcomed.

It is to be hoped that this universal entitlement will remove the stigma associated with free school meals and increase take-up of school meals. 

However, the announcement of this policy – by Nick Clegg at his party conference rather than by the Education Secretary or an education minister – and the way it has been reported by the media – is more about party politics, emphasising differences in “values” between the Coalition parties and portraying the Deputy Prime Minister as Clegg the Munificent, than it is about the welfare of children. 

If this is more than a cynical political stunt, surely the logical next step would be to extend free meals to include two, three and four year olds in early years provision and all primary and then secondary pupils. They need good food and regular meals, too. 

How this will be funded remains to be seen, and there is also the interesting question of whether there will be a new measure of social deprivation to replace free school meals. 

Do let us know your thoughts…

Free school lunches – more about party politics than the welfare of children?

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18 Responses to “Playing politics with school meals: beware of Cleggs bearing gifts (updated)”

  1. Geraldine Everett, Voice Council Member & Chairman Emeritus 18. Sep, 2013 at 10:29 am #

    Does it mean that if all children have FSMs for the first three years of school the FSM measure/index of deprivation becomes void?

    If so some schools might be seen as failing despite working with a number of children with deprivation; the results could plummet without schools being able to exhibit valid reasons making them a prime target for academisation.

    Is this new proposal another back door to increasing the number of primary academies?

    On another tack, what happens to schools with no catering facilities of their own and none nearby?

    • Deborah Lawson, General Secretary 18. Sep, 2013 at 10:35 am #

      I had similar thoughts when watching news reports of this. The devil as usual will be in the detail. However, on the face of it, it does seem that FSM will have to cease to be an indicator of deprivation when this implemented.

      The cost being quoted perhaps requires further investigation too. Is this in addition to the amount which currently funds FSM for the infant sector, or additional to the amount available for those eligible (eligibility and take up are quite different) or is it a forecast based on pupil number projections?

      Will this be extended to the free entitlement for 2,3 & 4 year olds? LAs can, or used to be able to, fund meals if it was in the interest of the child to attend all day and paying for meals was a barrier to take up – especially for families where older siblings were in receipt of FSM.

      So many questions. We need some meat on the bones of this announcement but suspect that we will have to wait a while for that and see how it fits in with any announcements from other party conferences.

  2. Anita Devi 18. Sep, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

    My tweet this morning to Nick Clegg, Pupil Premium Champion (John Dunford) & DfE this morning is how does this announcement affect Pupil Premium policy/strategy for schools?

    • Richard Fraser 18. Sep, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

      Noted: your tweet of DfE’s Evaluation of Free School Meals Pilot 2009-2011 [] (January 2013) Thanks.

  3. Ros Griffiths, Chairman Emeritus 11. Mar, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    School meal train on track?

    Interesting that David Laws’ said “free school meals will start on time . . . . are on track for September 2014.” I learned when eight years old that “start on time” is a limited concept.

    My mother ensured I started on time for school each morning. Two sibling toddlers and a baby meant she could not accompany me. I walked with other children, like today’s walking bus but with no driver. If tadpoles emerging from a stream hopped onto the road; if old Mrs Neighbour’s washing blew off the line and needed rescuing; if a tandem bike snail-paced up the hill. . . . any number of ifs might make us late for the start of morning lessons.

    Yes, that was long ago but the concept has not changed. The government has set this train off on its track with no driver, no perceivable engine and precious little fuel for the journey.

    Michael Gove and David Laws gave the wagons a push with their joint letter to head teachers and the issuance of departmental advice on March 6th. Mr Laws called this initiative a “hugely positive thing.” It is. He said “most teachers and . . . . unions are . . . . positive.” They are.

    Free meals mean a saving on household budgets; healthy, well fed children learn more efficiently and effectively. Pleasing to both parents and teachers (masses of voters). The policy is not at fault. The implementation plan is.

    The chairman of the Commons education committee, the NAHT, with many school engine drivers in membership, and our Voice members involved with implementing this change see serious struggling ahead. I ask what about the rest of education?

    A blog post cannot cover all hazards ahead, from weak bridges to snowdrifts or leaves on the line. I take small rural schools as an example of how a good policy badly implemented will damage other aspects of education equally important to children, parents and teachers.

    Small school heads probably teach part-time, probably have part-time admin, probably have no kitchen on site, surely have no floater to take over in an emergency. They do a stressful and more than full time job. I wonder which of their tasks Mr Gove or Mr Laws would recommend be postponed until after September to ensure the meals train keeps moving.

    Weak bridges? Government says 150 million pounds is going to schools to upgrade kitchens and dining facilities. Not quite. That amount, not ring fenced, is going to Local Authorities for distribution on a per pupil basis. Enough for a small school, starting from scratch, to get a whole kitchen?

    Snowdrifts? Apparently their pilots were a total success, so a complete absence of snow is assumed on the roll-out now in progress. I wonder how many pilots were rural; had fewer than 100 pupils?

    Unexpected leaves on the line? Hall PE lessons may need curtailing to make room for dining.

    More leaves on the line? Other aspects of school life will continue. Should an inspection find the head teacher not quite up to standard would an acceptable excuse be the interruption of ensuring school meal provision?

    Did someone in government say teachers “know absolutely nothing about the world of work?” What do politicians know about the world of managing a small school?

  4. Richard Fraser 11. Jul, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    BBC News: “Could free school meals mean less pupil premium funding?”

  5. Richard Fraser 02. Sep, 2014 at 10:49 am #

    Free school meals in infant schools from this week:

  6. Richard Fraser 18. Dec, 2014 at 9:16 am #

    Take up and Pupil Premium issues:

  7. Richard Fraser 01. May, 2015 at 9:26 am #

    As we warned above: “hidden cost” re free school meals

  8. Richard Fraser 11. Jul, 2016 at 8:38 am #

    Free school meals report not published

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