confusion over school milk

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:

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?


3 thoughts on “confusion over school milk

  1. Primary prowess says:

    This might help? At our school where the local authority is the school meal provider, since June this year, during school dinners, milk is available as an optional drink, alongside water. Children can help themselves to a lunchtime milk if they so wish, instead of (or as well as I suppose) water. The LA doesn’t provide every child with a milk – they plucked a figure from the air for the first trial of this and said to tell us if we ran out or had some left. I’d guess about a quarter of the children having school dinner choose to have a milk and we usually have some left over. Packed lunch children aren’t offered a school dinner milk as its part of school dinner – which they’ve opted not to have – in the same way they can’t suddenly decide to have chips.
    Quite separately we also have school milk avaiable for the early years and ks1 children during breaktimes (or continuously avaiable in the EY). Until the start of the 2013-2014 school year this was provided free (ie paid for by the LA) but since April 2013 we are charged for this…there may be an element of subsidy via th funding formula – afraid I can’t remember.
    So i dont think its a case of suddenly having to ensure every child has a milk at lunch time -just that they is enough there for those who really want one can have one.

    • Thanks for this, the picture seems to be getting clearer. My understanding is, FSM children (now including all infants) are legally entitled to free Milk if they want it.

      This could be a jug in class at break, coolmilk cartons or offered alongside lunch.

      There are a couple of issues to think about;
      first if you provide milk with lunch, are the menus still going to be compliment, as many caterers rely on offering fruit juice as a drink to meet they statutory requirements (acads excluded)

      Then there is the cost, who pays? Caterers? Schools? Is it budgeted for in the £2.30 or will schools be expected to subsidise this?

      Finally is the lack of clear information, do schools know if this is a requirement? Have they organised themselves for September?

      It’s all a bit vague!

      My assumption is it isn’t a huge problem for schools, it is extra hasle and expense and yet more to think about, but my issue is that schools should be told exactly what should be happening and they are not

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