I have just paid a pound of my hard earned money to Rupert Murdoch in order to read the latest instalment of the free schools meal saga. An apparent love in between Michael Gove and David Laws, as if anyone believes all is now well?
This is a very rushed first draft and I would apologise for any mistakes, please let me know if you spot any errors or think something needs clarifying.
I will post my quick comment as it reads down, so you can read it in conjunction with the article.
Immediately I am struck by the claim the UIFSM policy “proved that it help pupils to get better results” I have grave doubts about this claim, I am fairly sure the UFSM pilots could not prove any link and the 4 weeks progress they did find was barely significant.
They return to the evidence base, emphasising how giving free healthy food increased the number of children eating free healthy food as if this was some great innovation. They then bizarrely quote KS2 results as evidence. THE POLICY ISNT FOR KEY STAGE TWO!
Infants showed 4 weeks progress, but they prefer to use the better figures for KS2, which are irrelevant, that should tell you everything you need to know about the justification for this policy.
To be honest for a billion pounds policy, we should demand a stronger evidence base.
Let me be clear: infant progress and value for money comes out appallingly against other interventions. The claim “free meals did more to improve literacy levels than the nationwide introduction of a compulsory “literacy hour” in 1998” is simply not true of infants.
It is simply unacceptable for the ministers to presume they know “WHY”, the argument they put is based on speculation and assumption not evidence, this is probably why they then drift into heart warming anecdotes rather than stand up their case with proper evidence.
The SFP gets a mention, but they neatly gloss over the fact the plan did not recommend UIFSM, it suggested a gradual roll out to all primaries starting in the most deprived areas, very very different to what we now see enacted.
They then mention the bloody pods. Pods are completely unsuitable except in very Very VERY specific circumstances. They will cost schools an minimum £7k PA, and then some. Who can afford that? UIFSM supporters like the idea of pods because it is a superficial quick fix that gives them an easy answer to critics who highlight schools with no kitchens. clearly they have not thought through the cost implications nor understood the economics, but they still promote them as though they were on a commission. Pods are not a panacea!
I nearly fell off my chair when I read “This is a comprehensive, carefully worked out and coherent plan to improve the food in our schools”
No it isn’t. When it was announced, there was no mention of funding for infrastructure. How carefully was it worked out when they didn’t even realise schools needed kitchens? So carefully that it has a red rating and is at serious risk of failing!
How comprehensive is it to put forward a policy that you have no idea if it is actually deliverable? At the time of his speech to the lib dem conference, Clegg had no idea about the state of school kitchens, or school halls, if caterers could ramp up production, if equipment was available. He had no idea it was doable or the final costs involved
How coherent is it to announce a policy in September, but only write to heads in January, only announce infrastructure funding at Christmas, to lurch from one crisis to another?
When we look back on this we will have no idea what impact this policy has, because no one in measuring it!
They mention health benefits again, despite unambiguous statements in the pilot, that ufsm has no health benefits.
Questions on the justification remain, this policy offers poor VFM, the £150m isn’t based on need, it was a guess and everyone knows it isn’t enough. But the big thing, the major aspect is the ongoing costs that will have to be borne by schools.
In his leaked letter to Danny Alexander, Gove says “I am sure that you will agree with me that we must not risk forcing schools to subsidise meals by reducing their spending on teaching and learning. I would be grateful for your assurance that my budget will be increased to fully cover the cost of this new commitment, as I am unable to fill any shortfall”
Schools are having to fund the initial set up costs from existing budgets!
Where ongoing provision costs are more than £2.30, schools will be forced to subsidise the policy from their T&L budgets.
For those who think £2.30 is sufficient, it was the mean cost of primary school meals in 2012, many paid more. Economies of scale won’t work everywhere as the small school task force found out when they did some projections and almost all their scenarios ran in a deficit.
I would like Gove to answer this big question
Is it acceptable that schools are forced to subsidise the lib dems infant free school meal policy from money given to them to fund teaching and learning?
I have been through all these points before in my blogs, please look back for links to the evidence.
All in all this letter is just a regurgitation of the same old tosh we have heard before, it was unfounded rubbish first time round, it is panicky unfounded rubbish now.