Can free school meals revive the Lib Dems?

Sep 14, 2014 by

The party’s £1bn policy allows all pupils in all infant classes to get a daily hot meal. Nick Clegg took a lot of flak when it was announced – but how is it working out? Jay Rayner joins him in the school dinner queue

The first day of the autumn term at Walnut Tree Walk Primary School in Lambeth and there are some special people queuing for lunch: the 30 or so new reception year pupils, a wide-eyed, open-mouthed trail of baffled-looking four- and five-year-olds. There’s also the deputy prime minister, his speech writers, handlers and security detail, but they’re used to Nick Clegg and his entourage here at Walnut Tree Walk. When politicians need to visit an educational establishment they cross the river to Lambeth. Clegg was last here for Christmas lunch. I ask him if he’s getting his usual table, and he grins. “The food’s good here,” he says, perkily.

Clegg seems energised today, and with reason. The start of the school year also brings the start of free school meals for all the 1.9 million children in infant classes (the first three years of school) in England, at a cost of £1bn over two years; a policy Clegg announced a year ago at the Lib Dem party conference. What’s more, as of this lunchtime it hasn’t been the total car crash predicted by his political opponents and portions of the schools sector.

According to government figures 98% of the nearly 16,000 primary schools in England were able to offer a hot meal. Those having to make do for now with packed lunches for lack of kitchen facilities were in the low hundreds. “I’m thrilled to bits that something all these naysayers said couldn’t and shouldn’t happen, has happened,” Clegg says.

The original announcement was a surprise, even to those who had proposed the policy. In 2012 Michael Gove, the then education secretary, had commissioned Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, the founders of Leon, to investigate the state of school food. Their report, published in July 2013, contained 16 “actions” for which funding had been found, including mandatory standards for school food and the reintroduction of food education to the curriculum.

via Can free school meals revive the Lib Dems? | Education | The Observer.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.