TORY plans to replace free school lunches with free ‘breakfasts’, costed at 25p, for primary school children have been lambasted by the Education Data Lab and the NUT.
Education Data Lab has pointed out that even with ‘25p breakfasts’, the project will cost treble the projected £60m. Experts analysing the plans re-costed them at between £180m and £400m, depending on how many pupils take them.
And a Conservative Party spokesman said the original £60m costing of its universal offer was based on a 25% take-up rate. Researchers at Education DataLab say as well as assuming food costs of 25p per pupil the plan does not include staff costs.
The Tory manifesto claims the £650m savings from the scrapping of school dinners would be recycled into school budgets, adding that a free breakfast would be offered instead. Commenting, Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, 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 Clubs 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.’ Academics led by Dr Rebecca Allen analysed the costing of the free breakfasts pledge, and discovered it was based on an evaluation of a particular charitable scheme, called Magic Breakfast. This evaluation, by the Education Endowment Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (EEF/IFS), did not, however, include the cost of staffing the breakfast club.’
Dr Allen said it also did not take into account that Magic Breakfast relied on donated food. Researchers at Education Data Lab found the full cost of the scheme would be anything between £180m and £400m, depending on what proportion of children took up the offer.
If 50% of children took up the offer, researchers said the scheme would cost £400m. Speaking at an Education Media Centre press briefing, Dr Allen said: ‘They say it’s going to cost £60m but we think it’s going to cost something over £200m to £400m.
‘It’s a problem because they wanted to scrap universal free school meals for infants and take that and put it back into the general slug of the education budget. We think that they can’t manage to do that if they are going to deliver free school breakfasts.’
She added that if the free breakfast clubs acted as a proper child care substitute, then many parents would switch from their existing childminders and providers into the free clubs. Therefore we feel take-up would be substantially more than 25%,’ she said.