How to cock up spending £150 million

My latest stream of consciousness blog on Free school meals

As i explained in my last blog, the recent announcement of £150 million towards infrastructure was all rather shambolic, it is the epitome of too little, too late.

This week the DfE released its plans for spending the £150m it says it doesn’t have, but will be spending anyway. The allocation of this money sheds even more light in the chaos going on with this policy, pointing to yet more incompetence and a total lack of understanding of what is needed.

Any sensible person launching a free school meals policy would do an audit of school kitchens and halls (ideally ahead of times to see if the policy is viable), work out how much money is required and allocate the funds on a needs basis. If a LA has no kitchens, give them more money, if an area took part in a trial and previously received funding to provide hot FSM, then clearly they will need less new money.

But it seems politicians are not sensible people!

As is well documented Nick Clegg launched the policy without any real thought,  then along with the chancellor made up an impressive sounding figure to spend on infrastructure,  despite knowing it wasn’t anywhere near enough. This left the DfE in a tricky position, it has measly £150m to spend on implementing the Lib dems policy and knows has to at least be seen to help out.

The DfE in its wisdom decided to allocate the funds based on a local authorities total pupil numbers, not on the identified need to implement the policy. Seems the DfE prefers the simplistic use of historic pupil data rather than work out what is actually needed as identified by auditing school catering facilities.

This in itself seems bad form, but when you start looking at the actual allocation, you soon realize how idiotic this is.

Smaller areas like Rutland will receive derisory amounts (£49665), effectively enough to fit out one new school kitchen with commercial fridges ovens, steamers ect.. This begs the question what are all the other schools in Rutland supposed to do?

At the other end of the scale Newham council despite currently providing all it’s primary aged children with Free School Meals, will receive over £1 million, their 10 voluntary aided schools will share £100 000.

You really couldn’t make this stuff up!

Because the funding method uses numbers of children, it benefits cities and urban areas who have higher FSM (forgive the generalizations) and as a result are more likely to have kitchens and halls that are fit for purpose. The losers are the rural schools who don’t have existing provision, who won’t benefit from local hubs, who have transport issues. In simplifying the distribution of the
money, one suspects because they don’t really know who needs what and there isn’t enough money to go round, this policy is actually acting against the schools who need the money, whilst wasting it on schools who don’t need it.

Incidentally we still see the hand of Gove at play as they managed to exaggerate the amount siphoned off for free schools and academies (14% of funds for less than 10% of schools).

It is hard to know how much politics is involved in this policy and it’s implementation. Clearly this is a Leb Dem policy but it’s implementation lies with the DfE and the right wing Govian acolytes. The inevitable fiasco will see even more of the finger pointing we see over the initial £150 million. It will all get messy come September when, and it is when, the policy turns into a farce. We can only hope this all gets played out in the education select committee, if only for its entertainment value.

If you think giving millions to schools who don’t need it is wasteful, my next blog will be on the £17 million we are about to spend on PR for the discredited School Meal Plan.

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