Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg stood up at the Lib Dem autumn conference in 2013 and announced that, from September 2014, all children between four and seven will qualify for free lunches. Those of us with acute hearing would have detected the collective gasp from the corridors of the DFE, as civil servants worked out what exactly that would mean – and where the money to pay for it would come from?
Free infant school meals for all pupils was one of the recommendations of a review of school food by two founders of the Leon restaurant chain for the Department for Education (well they would say that, wouldn’t they!). Of course, the idea of free school meals for all pupils has been on the hob for many years, with several pilot studies and researchers analysing the outcomes and claiming that a free meal for all helped to narrow the divide in the achievement gap between rich and poor pupils. Supporters of this idea argued that children with a regular healthy meal were more likely to be able to concentrate, get better academic results and were less likely to be obese. It was a public health approach, covering everyone for the long-term benefit. A spokesman for the DfE pitched in and said: ‘We are providing more than £1billion to ensure children get a healthy meal in the middle of the day. We’re also making sure that schools are not left out of pocket by putting £150million on the table.’ Who could argue against that?
Well, we could, as could many other schools and teaching organisations. Let me explain...