So, today the Children and Families Bill has been amended to include the provision of free school lunches to all children in reception, year 1 and year 2.
There has been much uncertainty as to whether this proposal, announced in September 2013, would actually go ahead. Finally that uncertainty has been removed which leaves schools 7 months to organise the logistics. For many it involves extending kitchens, employing extra staff and extending the lunch break to ensure that all children can be fed (many primary schools lack space and cannot fit all children into one space in one sitting).
For my children’s school it means ordering more meals from the outside catering company that supply the hot meals every day.
But as I questioned back in September, in my post ‘Free school meals for all children up to the age of 8…good or bad?‘, how will the schools and catering companies cope with the inevitable increase in special diet requests? And will they be able to cater safely for these children? Safely enough for us parents to trust that we won’t have to cope with poorly children when they get home?
Food allergies can be life threatening and schools take them very seriously. When it comes to coeliac disease that does not seem to be the case. Who cares if a child ingests a trace amount of gluten if it isn’t going to elicit an immediate medical emergency? It is us parents and carers who then have to cope with the aftermath of an accidental glutening.
So what are schools and catering companies doing? I know the Anaphylaxis campaign were following the plan with interest but I haven’t heard an update since they wrote an article back in October 2013, that you can read here.
Despite my best efforts, neither my children’s school, nor the catering company that they use, have taken me up on my offer of helping them to plan how they will cater for food allergic etc kids. I am hopeful that now this legislation has been set, schools and catering companies will start to consider the needs of all children it covers. I suspect, however, that they have greater issues to worry about around the logistics of actually delivering it! We will wait and see…
Some articles you may be interested in that have been in the press on this subject:
Nick Clegg defends free school meals, The Guardian, Dec 2013
Is Nick Clegg’s free school meals idea turning into a dog’s dinner?, The Guardian, Dec 2013
Revealed: £150million funding hole in free school meals pledge, The Guardian, Dec 2013
Free school meals: Ready, steady, build a kitchen, The Guardian, Jan 2014
Update on Universal Free School Meals, School Food Matters (includes letter to headteachers from Michael Gove and David Laws), January 2014
The relevant amendment to the Children and Families Bill:
After Clause 85
Insert the following new Clause—
“Provision of free school lunches
(1) The Education Act 1996 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 512ZB (provision of free school lunches and milk at maintained
(a) in subsection (2)(a) after “subsection (4)” insert “or (4A) (or both)”,
(b) after subsection (4) insert—
“(4A) A person is within this subsection if the person—
(a) is a registered pupil at a maintained school or pupil
referral unit in England, and
(b) is in reception, year 1, year 2 or any other prescribed
year group at the school.
(4B) The Secretary of State may by order provide for the
following to be treated as persons within subsection (4A)—
(a) registered pupils, or any description of registered
pupils, at a maintained nursery school in England;
(b) children, or any description of children, who receive
relevant funded early years education, or any
description of such education, in England.
(4C) In subsection (4A)—
“maintained school” means—
(a) a community, foundation or voluntary
(b) a community or foundation special school;
“reception” means a year group in which the majority
of children will, in the school year, attain the age of 5;
“year 1” means a year group in which the majority of
children will, in the school year, attain the age of 6;
“year 2” means a year group in which the majority of
children will, in the school year, attain the age of 7;
“year group” means a group of children at a school the
majority of whom will, in a particular school year,
attain the same age.”;
(c) in subsection (5), after ““prescribed”” insert “, “relevant funded
early years education””.
(3) After section 512A insert—
“512B Provision of school lunches: Academies
(1) Academy arrangements in relation to an Academy school or an
alternative provision Academy must include provision imposing
obligations on the proprietor that are equivalent to the school
(2) “The school lunches obligations” are the obligations imposed in
relation to maintained schools and pupil referral units in England
(a) section 512(3) (provision of school lunches on request), and
(b) section 512ZB(1) (provision of free school lunches to eligible
(3) Academy arrangements in relation to an Academy (other than a 16
to 19 Academy) that are entered into before the date on which
section ( Provision of free school lunches)(3) of the Children and
Families Act 2014 comes into force are to be treated as if they
included the provision required by subsection (1), to the extent that
they do not otherwise include such provision.”