In the past day or so Attention seeking Deputy Prrime Minister, Nick Clegg has managed to get an “exclusive” in the telegraph and mentions in the Times and mirror by talking up his Universal Free schools meal policy.
I feel the editors should ask for their fees back as all these stories appear to be nothing more than lines from a Lib Dem PR pamphlet. Worse still the implied new research is actually the UFSM pilot evaluation from January 2013. All a bit frustrating as this really isn’t anything new or newsworthy, just a rehash of Nick Cleggs partisan blustering.
To be honest, the pamphlet is not that interesting, as is common with these things, it waffles on mostly, avoiding specifics wherever possible, following the similar posts we see regularly from Clegg and Laws. What has stirred me into action however are the spurious and plainly made up headlines that splatter my twitter time line.
“Free school meals will break down classroom social divides and boost learning, says report” . No it doesn’t
“Universal FSMs will help poorer pupils get better exam results & break down social barriers in the classroom: report” No evidence to prove they will at all
Free school meals for all ‘will make Britain’s children brighter‘ who are they quoting? where is the evidence?
We even had DfE taking a break from praising a some mediocre free school for having a child sing in tune, or something equally mundane, to repeat the line
DfE should know the report didnt say this, as they commissioned the thing!
But as this is “News” and I haven’t done this for a bit, I thought I would go through the claims but rather than run through every newspaper, i have decided to go through the Lib Dems very own “Get the Facts” leaflet which seems to be the common source of most of the quotes used.
It doesnt really start very well, the second line is;
Free school meals will greatly improve the health, behaviour and results of schoolchildren, providing them with their best start in life, enabling every child to fulfil their potential. Have a look at the factsheet to see the benefits of school meals:
There is no evidence that Free school meals improve Health!
On page 3, the UFSM pilot report states “There was no evidence that the FSM pilot led to significant health benefits during the two year pilot period. For example, there was no evidence of any change in children’s Body Mass Index.”
The report made no such claims on Behavior!
Page 84 of the report states “The evaluation did not include a quantitative assessment of classroom behavior” meaning any claims have no statistical basis and it is inappropriate to claim causation.
There is no guarantee that UIFSM “WILL” make any difference to results and certainly nothing to indicate that giving children 570 meals will be the deciding factor that enables children to fulfill their potential, especially as most of the beneficiaries of this policy can well afford a meal already.
The report then sets out some bullet points
Is it worth the money?
At a time of continuing financial hardship, this policy will save families hundreds of pounds per child, every year. Free school meals help all pupils do better in English and Maths, no matter which social group they belong to, and they will help the four in ten children who live in poverty to fulfil their potential.
So the main emphasis, as ever, appears to the main point of the policy, to remind parents of the £440 pre-election bribe.
Do UIFSM help ALL children do better? The pilots showed a large number of children on UFSM actually have a negative effect on academic achievement.
“there was no significant effect on the standardised average point score for the population as a whole in area B”
“the pilot had no impact on pupils who scored in the highest quartile ” the trail actually had a negative impact on the highest performing 25% of children.
There is also significant doubt as to the fact that the free school meals were the cause of any improvement shown in the pilot. The independent Public Health England reviewed the pilot evidence and stated
“An evaluation of the Free School meals pilot in England found that the universally extending provision of school lunch eligibility to all students impacted on attainment at Key Stages 1 and 2. However, the study was unable to establish if this was the result of providing free school meals or the wider package of activities associated with the pilot. The extension of eligibility below the level of universality did not demonstrate an improvement in achievement”
So no causation was proven?
“These effects on attainment could have arisen through the provision of free school meals directly or through the wider activities that accompanied the pilot, such as the promotion of school meals and healthy eating to pupils and parents, or both”
“The source of these improvements in productivity is not clear”
“It is important to note that the mechanisms underlying the improvements in attainment observed in the universal pilot are not clear.”
I find it frustrating that in this section, there is nothing about Value for money? Surely this is the obvious place to explain how it is worth the spend? But no, nothing because there is very little evidence to show the policy offers good value or is worth the money.
Does it work?
Evidence shows that free school meals make a real difference in our classrooms. They were first piloted by the Department of Education and Department of Health in 2009. These pilots found clear benefits: on average children in the pilots areas were found to be ahead of their peers. These findings were then backed up by the Government’s School Food Plan – a report published in 2013.
I hope you look up the evidence I posted above, there may be some benefit, but it is barly significant. What I would like to point out at this point is that the evidence of progress was far greater for KS2 children than it was for KS1, essentially, if you want to use this evidence to improve their attainment, give free school meals to Junior age children, who make double the progress.
As for the findings being backed up by the School food plan, Great report as it was, they simply repeated some of the claims, but with no new research they cant have backed the previous pilot up? I find that a very odd thing to suggest?
Will schools get support?
We’re providing £150m for upgrades to kitchens and dining rooms, on top of a billion pounds of new money to fund the meals. We’ve legislated for the policy to give schools certainty that it will be a lasting change in our schools system. In the Department of Education, David Laws has also set up an advice line providing individual schools with practical support and he’s made it clear that any headteacher can contact him directly with their concerns.
All these figures sound impressive, One Hundred and Fifty million Pounds. WOW what a huge sum?
No not really, not in the terms of school buildings, where a new 150 seater dining hall will set you back 1\2 a million, a kitchen £50k?
I could fill a page with links showing that this money is nowhere near enough. But I wont bore you, I would like to point out that Clegg and Laws had to beg the treasury for this money as they “forgot” to factor in any infrastructure costs when they set out the policy. DUH!!!
As you probably know, I have real issues with the initial and the ongoing funding, needless to say they are both well short of what is needed.
The legislation is nothing to be proud of, by insisting that this policy is a legal requirement for September, Clegg has created huge problems for many schools as he now admits. Why the necessity to legislate? Why cant schools just implement ASAP?
The advice line will not build anyone a kitchen! Tell them you and your LA have no money? Tell them you have no space for a kitchen? Tell them your hall only seats 1/5 of your school and shifts will take 3 hours? Tell them your costs are more than £2.30? and you get silence!
Will schools be prepared?
The majority of schools are already making excellent progress, but when there are 23,500 schools in the country there will always be a few who greet change with hesitation and who feel ill-equipped. Some schools will be able to do this very quickly: pilot areas were given just 12 weeks to implement the policy. Some schools will, of course, need more time – so we have given them 12 months.
According to the BBC research there are 2700 schools who will not be ready, I would also point out to Mr Clegg that there are only 17000 primary schools.
Most schools will manage the transition fairly easily, but some will struggle, not through reticence or fear of change, but because the money to fit them out, simply isn’t there! I find it pathetic that Ministers seek to shift blame onto heads for the failings in this policy. Schools feel ill equipped, BECAUSE THEY ARE ILL EQUIPPED!!
Pilot areas had far more notice, they had to put in detailed plans to apply to participate and their circumstances cannot be extrapolated out to the whole country. To suggest all schools had 12 months is a blatant lie, the first letter to schools was at the end of December, the funding not allocated till much later.
There we have it, a quick run through of the latest Lib Dem UIFSM pamphlet. Facts, the Lib Dem way!!
It’s a shame the Newspapers didn’t look into it more thoroughly before using it as the basis of their stories?