Why free school meals for all UK 5-7 year olds is a bad idea

I never like to pour cold water on positive action in my industry, but I have to say that pledging £600m to give free school meals to all under 8s in the country is a ridiculous idea and a huge waste of money.

It seems to be that this proposal is little more than a headline-grabber. It is a simplistic, generalist solution, betraying a basic lack of understanding of the issues involved.

A vast number of UK families can afford to pay for school meals. Making them free for all is not going to bring uptakes anywhere near 100%, as was demonstrated when such schemes were trialled in Scotland and again in Hull. In both instances, 60-70% was the norm.

Where free school meals are concerned, there are factors other than cost at play here, as I wrote recently in Education Today magazine.

Why would the government want to give free school meals to children whose parents who can well afford to pay for them already?

In years gone by, this  ‘blanket’ approach to education and educational policy making was the norm, but now that we are in a more enlightened era of personalised learning based on recognition of individual needs, can we not have policies based on sound research and clearer thinking?

For parents who are relatively comfortable or well off, this new funding will make hardly a scrap of difference, because as I’ve pointed out many times, getting kids to eat healthy is about far more than cost.

So rather than spend £600m on free school meals for all 5-7 year olds, why not spend this money employing a head chef in every primary school. This would send the quality of food through the roof. Take-ups would soar, all primary children would be better off, not just 5-7 year olds.

I estimate that all this would cost just £7.5m, it would benefit all primary school children, not 5-7 year olds and it would create thousands of new jobs.

Another idea might be to allocate a set amount to each school so that the nutritional needs of the less fortunate children can be well catered for.

So, some forthright views from me this time, and I certainly looking forward to further debates on this issue.

Till next time,

Steve

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