Once again I am confused (not unusual I hear you all say) this time it is as a direct result of a DfE poster, which in its “Top Things Parents Need To Know” informs parents “Low fat milk will be free and available every day and fresh drinking water will be free at all times”.
I was rather taken aback by this information, no caveats, no “only applies to infants” or “only FSM children”, just a rather grand statement that seemingly applies to all children who want milk, no ambiguity simply “milk will be free and available every day”. i didn’t actually believe it, assuming an intern had made a mistake when everyone was away for the summer.
But being the sensible chap i am, I did what any sensible chap would do and tweeted the DfE asking if there would be funding for the milk they were promising.
Dfe tweeted “Schools must make milk available once a day as part of the new School Food Standards: http://ow.ly/A4hZ5 “
To be honest this simply added to my contusion, it looked rather like they were avoiding the question and answering the question they would have liked me to ask
DfE seemed to be confused themselves, implying schools should be using next years new standards, so i followed the link and had a good look at all the information i could, to try and clear up exactly what is happening and what the expectations on schools are. the results are quite worrying if i read this all correctly.
As always with this, there are a number of complicating issue, this is only my interpretation, I would welcome input from anyone who thinks differently or can add light to what is supposed to be happening.
Firstly it is worth noting that things change in January, but I want to establish a consensus of what is happening now, happily it seems undisputed that all under fives get free milk.
Thhis is taken from the school food standards where DfE state on page 6
“Currently there is no statutory requirement for milk to be provided in schools, it is for governing bodies to decide whether to provide milk to pupils. Where milk is provided it must be free to children who are eligible for free school meals. Charges can be made for all other pupils.”
My interpretation of this is , if a school is supplying milk to any of its pupils, it must extend the provision, for free to all FSM pupils.
The next para from the standards states the situation applicable in 3 weeks time,
“From September 2014 all infant school pupils will be entitled to a free school lunch. Where milk is provided as part of this lunch it must be provided free”
Thisis ambiguous and i dont think it is very clear at all, no mention of what happens to milk outside of lunch, what happens with FSM children? Do the existing “Where milk is provided it must be free to children who are eligible for free school meals” rule still apply? it is quite significant if it does as from September every infant school will be supplying milk to its under 5s and therefore have to provide milk to all its FSM children, which will be everyone on roll
Finally we seem to get to probably the least confusing but still contentious bit
“From 1 January 2015 revised school food standards come into force… Under these revised standards, schools that provide food and drink on the premises must ensure that lower fat or lactose reduced milk is available to those children who want it at least once a day during school hours. As now, it must be offered free of charge to those pupils entitled to free school meals and charges can be made for all other pupils”
Again, for an infant school, thanks to UIFSM, EVERYONE is entitled to a free school meal,
There is a clear implication that schools will have to find space for new fridges and fill them with milk?\This also begs the inevitable question who pays for this? is the expectation that it be an additional cost to come out of the already stretched £2.30?
So in summary, 2 simple question for someone
If a school supplies milk, will it then have to provide free milk to all its FSM children?
As all KS1 children are eligible for Free school meals, will infant schools have to provide free milk to all its children in September? In January?
this needs clearing up because i am not sure any school is ready to give out free milk to everyone in September?
I would also like to highlight one of the unintended consequences of the policy of offering free milk to FSM children. One of the main justifications for Universal FSM is the removal of stigma attached to receiving FSM. Now in schools who successfully avoid identifying FSM children at lunch times, we are now going to impose a new way of distinguishing those very children.
As a foot note
I find it interesting that the requirement for all schools to have Low fat milk “available” made it into the final standards.
There is always a debate to have about the benefits or not of skimmed milk, but I suspect I am not the only one to raise an eyebrow at the highly unusual phrasing, requiring schools to have “milk available”, so not give it, not supply it, but make it available? Why this wording over anything more explicit? Why not just highlight the benefits and allow schools to choose? Why the compulsion to “make it available”? I cant think of any other area of school life where there is compulsion to make
As my old tutor used to say, “Follow the money”, who benefits from having to keep milk in school? From regularly having to update their stock and order more?
The biggest school milk supplier is Coolmilk limited, and reading the Summary of responses to consultation on the standards, perhaps sheds some light?
“The campaign by Cool Milk highlighted considerable concern on the part of parents and schools about the proposal to require schools to make milk available at lunchtime”
“We have listened to the concerns of the almost ten thousand respondents who raised this issue and, while we feel it is vital that milk is available during core school hours, we agree that it is not essential specifically at lunchtime. We have amended the legislation accordingly to require milk to be available during the main school day”
So a consultation which received 220 written responses, received 9,606 responses related to a campaign by CoolMilk raising issues about the requirement for schools to make milk available.
And it seems the campaign was reasonably successful, though its main aim of having milk available every lunch was discarded. See Annex A , this compromise will no doubt be a satisfactory trade-off for 10000 emails?