The fight to save Universal Infant Free school meals is the wrong fight to have

Cuts, cuts and more cuts

Like it or not the education budget is being cut.

Once you get your head round that as a fact, your perspectives should change.

The Tories were elected fair and square and seem determined to pursue a policy of fiscal tightening and the education budget will be one of those hit. No ifs or buts, DfE funding is being cut. I don’t like it any more than the next man, I didn’t vote for them, but we are where we are and they have a mandate and enough MPs, so these cuts will happen.

Where will the education cuts fall

It has been clear that the actual schools spending will remain ring-fenced as “flat cash per pupil”, even so there will be a 12% real terms cut in school budgets as NI, pay and pension increases hit.

So we have to look to the none-ring-fenced education spending to see where the cuts will fall.  This includes UIFSM, early years, pupil premium, sixth form, higher education and free schools, (but if you think the conservatives are going to cut free schools, you probably need some medication)

So the dfe have the unenviable job of prioritising where they will find savings from a fairly restricted list, all of whom have strong cases for continued levels of funding.

The true cost of UIFSM is rising,

One of the problems facing UIFSM is that it is actually underfunded at the moment. Schools are actively subsidising the scheme, there are hundreds of schools who need millions invested in new infrastructure but are left to struggle on.. there are many schools with meal costs above £2.30, who are left to find the money from somewhere, there simply isn’t enough cash going into UIFSM as it stands

But it is going to get worse, changes to the national minimum wage will have a disproportionate impact on low paid catering staff. Don’t get me wrong, I am delighted the minimum wage has gone up. But that cost will have to be passed on, as will all the extra infrastructure and equipment costs as well as those from an increased pupil roll. So the question is, who will end up paying?

If we retain UIFSM, are we seriously expecting the government  will put in the hundreds of millions in extra funding needed or will the shortfall be passed down to schools leaving them to fill the gap and subsidise the policy from other budgets.

The government has shown its hand already in the way it cut the small school transitional funding, leaving many small schools in a perilous state, they are having to take thousands or pounds from teaching budgets to pay for the statutory requirement to provide UIFSM. Unless UIFSM funding rises, this will inevitably become the norm.

Is UIFSM worth saving?

People throw up lots of reasons to save UIFSM, mostly anecdotal, few if any stand up to scrutiny, but they all are dwarfed by the elephant in the room, there is no evidence UIFSM on its own makes a difference to children’s education.

I cant stress this enough, there is no evidence UIFSM on its own makes a difference to children’s education or their health.

This inevitably puts the DFE in an awkward position, as there are clear benefits for many other competing alternatives. Whilst only around 400,000 children are benifiting from the uifsm policy.

So in simple terms people are fighting for a scheme that actually takes money from schools, that will cost more and has no evidence of any benefit or that it offers value for money.

I would say in any cost benefit analysis, you are on to a loser!

We should fight, but for the right thing

Don’t get me wrong, I love fighting for a cause, I am certainly not one to give up easily, but I am also pragmatic and look at the bigger picture in all this.

Which is why I argue that people should accept the deficiencies in the case for UIFSM and spend their energy fighting for something better to come along after and replace it.

I understand those with vested interests want the policy to continue, i.e. Chartwells made £30m from uifsm last year, but economics  isn’t a good enough reason to continue.

I believe we should focus on targeting support for those in greatest need.  Look at improving the support for those facing holiday hunger, expand breakfast clubs, promote strategies to combat obesity, automate FSM entitlement improve the quality of school meals and take up. All these could be done with the money saved and would have significant benefits.

We should accept UIFSM for what it is, a poorly thought through Lib Dem election bribe, recognise that it is actually sucking money from teaching and learning and will need even more cash. We should then give some thought to what should replace it and push for the savings to be invested back in the front line rather than wasting time defending the indefensible.

If you gave an infant teacher £13000, how many would spend it all paying for the lunches of every one of the class mates, regardless of need?

As a footnote, if you do think UIFSM is defensible in some way, show me the evidence, it’s all I ask.

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3 thoughts on “The fight to save Universal Infant Free school meals is the wrong fight to have

  1. Hi – appreciate your points.
    With funding levels very restricted, there’s not much more to add, – it’s frustrating that govt policy is so short termist that one minute you’re panicking to ensure you can provide for everyone, and the next fretting that the money you’ve spent and the efforts you’ve gone to may be wasted as the state funding is pulled, and then do you switch back, or try and push parents into paying for it begrudgingly?

    It’s terrible economics, but that’s up to Mr Osborne I guess. Add in that it’s not yet known what the opposition view on this will be, but it’s highly possible it would be another reversal.

    I guess if you’ve spent all that time and effort re-structuring facilities, negotiating contracts, buying capital equipment, it’s a gut reaction to fight for it, but also to make the funding argument at the same time. It might get you nowhere, but it gives you continuity to concentrate on the important stuff.

  2. Pingback: The end of the small school UIFSM grant | not very jolley

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