Schoolzone: School meals - right idea; wrong reasons

School meals - right idea; wrong reasons

2 Sept 2014


It's a challenge to schools to deliver free school meals to infants, but most heads seem to be generally in favour. OK, there are dissenters: aside from being a pain to implement, with no obvious benefits to school performance (no, the pilot studies did not show anything convincing, being too insubstantial and with a very narrow profile of schools involved) and with very many other things that £1billion could be spent on (like more school places for example). but who could argue with giving children free food?

Unfortunately, this question seems to have formed the basis for the development of the school meals policy. The Lib Dem argument goes something like this: feeding children crap makes them perform badly in the afternoon, so let's feed them better. Difficult to argue with, but:

  • Everyone performs less well in the afternoons - that's why schools tend to have far less teaching time after lunch
  • Not all children need the state to fund their lunches - the vast majority in fact, don't.

And you could probably come up with many other good reasons why this is ill-founded from a pedagogical point of view: essentially it seems more like a vote-grabber than anything else, but:

  • It's not all about performing better in class: there are strong sociological reasons for adopting this policy - such as educating children and families to eat better: something we are still failing to do.

Some buts to the but:

  • Not all children need this - many parents in most schools provide very healthy lunches already.
  • Pupil premium, another Lib Dem innovation, already provides extra funding for the disadvantaged - could we have something similar for meals?
  • Means testing might be an old fashioned idea, but surely schools should be made to apply to for this funding if they want or need it?

The problem with this policy - and this will be even bigger if it's extended to all primary age groups - is that it's very difficult for schools to reverse out of: and even more difficult for future governments to scrap: Thatcher earned the epithet "milk snatcher" for a much smaller crime.

So here's hoping for the application of a little common sense rather than yet more use of schools to further someone's political objectives: school meals good; wasted spending bad.




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