Today, we saw two newsworthy developments with the ongoing free school meal fiasco; 
 
Firstly the SNP decide to follow Englands lead and introduce universal FSM to Scotland. Sadly they seen to have learned nothing from the mistakes made south of the border. The SNP ignored the initial capital costs, the practicalities of providing this many meals, they made dubious claims about the benefits of the policy including a bizarre claim about saving families £330 (equates to £1.73 per day). And as it is the SNP, Alex Salmon added in some incendiary independence rhetoric, just to liven things up. (As an aside the Welsh LibDems noticed that welsh children were being left behind by Scotland’s decision on FSM and I whilst I don’t normally engage with Celtic politics, this was notable because in their statement the welsh Lib Dems gave out the impression that free school meals means a free Hot meal, when it clearly does not).

The second interesting development came about from reading the transcript of the recent parliamentary education questions.

Amongst all the discussion on all the failing free schools and waste, Sir Tony Cunningham chipped in and repeatedly asked David laws about the £150 million capital expenditure recently “found” and set aside for the free school lunch policy.

Three times Cunningham asked about the funding and three times David Laws deflected and refused to answer. See Hansard….

 “Sir Tony Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Education how many schools will require new or upgraded (a) kitchen,(b) dining and (c) kitchen and dining facilities to support the introduction of universal free school meals for children aged five, six and seven. [182011]

Mr Laws: We have discussed the capital needs of schools with stakeholders, sought advice from local authorities and considered the findings of the School Food Trust’s 2012 school lunch take-up survey in determining our approach to implementing the policy. As a result, we have allocated £150 million of capital funding to improve kitchen and dining facilities in schools in 2014-15. It will be for local authorities to decide how to allocate the funding among their schools. Academies and free schools that have capital needs can bid to the Academies Capital Maintenance Fund.

Sir Tony Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Education whether he has identified those schools which will require new or upgraded kitchen and dining facilities to support the introduction of universal free school meals for children aged five, six and seven. [182012]

Mr Laws: The Government is providing £150 million of capital funding to improve kitchens and dining facilities in schools ahead of the introduction of universal free school meals for pupils in reception, year 1 and year 2 from September 2014. It will be for schools and local authorities to identify their own particular needs, and we believe that this is best achieved at a local level.

Sir Tony Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Education whether he expects schools which will require new or upgraded kitchen and dining facilities to support the introduction of universal free school meals for children aged five, six and seven to have those new facilities in place by September 2014. [182013]

Mr Laws: The Government expects all state-funded schools to offer a free, nutritious school lunch to all pupils in reception, year 1 and year 2 from September 2014.

We are providing £150 million of capital in 2014-15 to improve kitchens and dining facilities in schools; this will enable new facilities to be in place by September 2014.”

I would refer you back to my previous blogs where I suggested that the decision to provide £150m was not based on schools actual need but on how much money George Osborne would free up at short notice after the initial cock up.

Laws refusal to explain where the figures came from goes a long way to confirming my view that he has no idea how much is needed by individual schools to implement this policy, the DfE has no idea if £150m is enough or not (it’s not) and Laws is diverting the blame to LAs. His suggestion that the calculation was in some part based in the 2012 survey (66% of LAs responded, many didn’t respond fully) into free school meals is interesting because at no point does that report indicate any schools ability to expand to provide for every child on roll. (This area longs for FoIs.)

All this goes to confirm the impression that the capital costs of this policy were never properly considered, they were not worked out up front and a convenient large sounding figure was plucked out of the ether. It all reinforces my view that project is appallingly underfunded and the Liberal Democrats know it but are tied in despite having no real ideas about implementing this impending fiasco.

As always there will be lots more to come on this when I have time, this policy will lurch from panic to farce and back numerous times before September.

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Laws and Salmond dig in over FSM fiasco

Aside

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