School lunches: headteachers blast new ‘free meals for infants’ scheme

Heads of primary schools hit out at free-lunches-for-infant-classes plan, after Education Minister denies that English schools will struggle to introduce scheme on time

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Headteachers in England have said the Government’s plan to introduce free school meals in September 2014 for all children in Infant classes are ‘ridiculous’ – and they just don’t have the facilities to cope.

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Only two days ago, Education Minister David Law rubbished rumours of difficulties with the rollout timetable and insisted that the plans couldn’t be implemented in time.

But now Gail Larkin, of the National Association of Head Teachers, has said the scheme, announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in the autumn conference, had not been given proper thought – and headteachers had been given ‘ludicrous’ advice, such as asking children in Reception class to pick their lunch options two hours in advance.

“This policy was a nice soundbite and took us all by surprise,” she said. “It just wasn’t thought through properly. One school that has been testing this has had to start lunches at 11am and finish at 2pm. It’s ridiculous.”

Her criticism was vigorously backed by Jim Holditch, head of Godinton Primary in Ashford, Kent. “It’s being done so badly the Government could end up with a monumental own goal,” he told the Daily Mail.

“How much of break time would be taken up getting children to pick what they want for lunch?

“Has anyone from the Department of Education ever tried to get 60 4-year-olds to choose at break time what they want for lunch and to remember what they choose by the time they get up to the serving hatch – or not to change their mind when they see the food laid out in front of them?”

Last night, a spokesman for the Department for Education defended the scheme, saying it will “ensure children get healthy meal in the middle of the day”, echoing David Laws’ insistence on Sunday’s BBC 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics show that “the timetable is absolutely fine”. 

“I do understand that, for many head teachers, it’s an implementation challenge,” added Laws. “So it’s not surprising that it’s some of those individuals who are expressing concerns. But most teachers and most of the teacher unions are incredibly positive about this and I believe they can implement it on time.”

The changes, which will apply to 1.4 million children in English primary schools, will save parents of children in an infant class (Reception to Year 2) an average of £400 per year per child.

The scheme will be funded by £80m from the Treasury and £70m from a Department of Education underspend.

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