It has been in the pipeline and planning for some time, and is due to come into force come September. Of course I’m talking about the government plans to bring the Free School Meals program into all infant schools in England.
Like most things that Mr Gove and his government have tried to bring in at a rapid rate of knots, it has been debated whether it will happen both on time and with success. Education Minister David Laws insisted that these doubts are unjustified and these plans will happen on time.
He told BBC 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics that the September start date was “absolutely fine” and that most teachers were “incredibly supportive”.
Last week, senior Conservative MP Graham Stuart said schools would struggle and more planning was needed.
Mr Laws, a Liberal Democrat, said free meals would have a “positive” effect.
All Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 children in state-funded schools in England will be entitled to free lunches under the scheme, which supporters say will save parents about £400 a year per child.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg launched the plan at last autumn’s Liberal Democrat conference. Since then, several head teachers have complained that the timescale for implementation is unrealistic. Last week, Mr Stuart, chairman of the Commons education committee, said schools struggling to comply – such as those lacking adequate kitchen capacity – should get more “discretion” over start dates.
But the government says £150m is going to schools to expand their kitchens and dining facilities where needed.
Mr Laws told Pienaar’s Politics: “We believe that the timetable is absolutely fine. When we had pilots a few years ago in different parts of the country, those areas actually had less time than we have given to implement this across the country.”
He added: “I do understand that for many head teachers who have to implement this, it’s an implementation challenge. So it’s not surprising that it’s some of those individuals who are expressing concerns about the things they’ve got to do over the next few months.”
He called free meals “a hugely positive thing”, adding that the government had “found a huge amount of money at a time of austerity to do this because we think it’s very valuable in a multiplicity of different ways”. Mr Laws also said: “Most teachers and most of the teacher unions are incredibly positive about this and I believe they can implement it on time.”
I have to say I share the concerns about the timescales in particular. Having worked in a smaller school with only 1 class per year in a very small building with a kitchen literally the size of a box bedroom in a modern day house, trying to fit free school meals into that school was challenging enough. I cannot imagine how schools that do not even have those facilities will be able to bring those in, because it’s not like schools have an infinite pot of money to be able to extend their school buildings to fit them in. £150million across the whole country doesn’t seem like enough to me.
Don’t get me wrong, the idea is perfectly sound, but like all things from this government like the new curriculum, I just feel it’s been rushed in to try and make the government look impressive, rather than actually consider the effect that it might be having on schools in real terms.