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Around 900,000 children from low income families will be affected by the Conservatives’ plan to ditch the free school meals policy if they win the General Election.
Prime Minister Theresa May announced last week that free school lunches currently offered to children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 are to be scrapped with all children at primary school being offered free breakfast instead.
The Education Policy Institute (EPI) claims that doing away with the policy which was introduced three years ago, with some schools having to upgrade their kitchen facilities so they could offer the free school meals, will save around £650m a year.
Natalie Perera, EPI’s executive director told The Observer: “Around 900,000 children from low-income families will lose their eligibility for free school meals under these proposals. Around two-thirds of those children are from what the Government considers to be ‘ordinary working families’.
“The typical annual cost for an ordinary working family would increase under these proposals to around £440 for each child aged between four and seven.”
Children from the poorest backgrounds will still be entitled to free school lunches, returning to means-testing as it was done before the universal entitlement was introduced.
Conservatives have criticized the research as being “cobbled together” by the EPI, whose chairman David Laws, was the Liberal Democrat education minister who launched the policy in 2014, as part of the Coalition Government.
The plan was roundly condemned by Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, who said: “Cutting universal free school meals for 4- 7 year olds does not make sense, or represent value for money, given the investment many schools have already made in kitchens and staffing to ensure their availability. Breakfast Club are a good addition if properly funded, but getting rid of a universal offer of a hot meal in the day is mean-spirited and wrong-headed.
“It is a long time for a child to go without food from the morning until 3:30pm which will be the case for many families in work but struggling. If any project should be scrapped it should be the expensive and unnecessary free schools and grammar school expansion to which the Conservatives are so ideologically committed.”
However Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that due to there being no clear evidence to support universal free school meals as a means of improving attainment, the ASCL accepts it is not a spending priority.
He called it "unfortunate that the Conservatives are proposing to fund the ‘extra’ money for schools by removing the existing entitlement to free lunches for all infants, especially as many schools have had to extend kitchens and change catering suppliers to meet this requirement."
He added: “We are pleased that the Conservatives have listened to what ASCL and others have said over the importance of providing breakfast to more primary school children, and that they intend to extend this provision, as there is good evidence that breakfast clubs boost attainment.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT referred to the plan to ditch free school meals as “disappointing”, adding: “This is just moving money around inside the system”.
Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has pledged to introduce free school meals for all primary school pupils if Labour wins the election on 8 June.