Newham Council makes u-turn on free school meals after parents told to pay

PUBLISHED: 18:00 13 July 2017 | UPDATED: 13:40 14 July 2017

School children at William Davis Primary School enjoying their lunch as part of the Eat for Free programme. Picture: Andrew Baker

School children at William Davis Primary School enjoying their lunch as part of the Eat for Free programme. Picture: Andrew Baker

Andrew Baker 07977074356

Newham Council has made a funding u-turn after a quarter of primary schools threatened to drop its free school meal programme due to increased costs.

The local authority will now fully fund the cost of all key stage two paid meals for pupils from September 1 until March 31, 2018.

The last-minute decision, requiring cabinet approval next week, was made after 19 out of 69 schools said they would leave the Eat for Free programme because of a new funding model leaving them thousands of pounds worse off.

However, letters to parents have already been sent out asking them to pay from September. At present, the scheme saves parents/carers an average of more than £437 a year.

Newham National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) branch secretary Gary Wilkie said: “It will be with considerable relief that we will be able to share with parents the news that the mayor has made this significant commitment to the well-being of our families.”

In February, the council asked schools to pay 60 per cent costs on average under the new formula, leaving 24 schools worse off by an average of £17,000.

After several schools indicated they would pull out, the offer was revised to 40pc but it still left 19 schools - including academies - worse off by an average of £17,000.

Hartley Primary School told parents in a letter last week that it faced hiked costs of £80,370 to remain.

A paper drawn up for cabinet said other schools had also confirmed they “might withdraw from the partnership in the future”.

Newham Council is one of only three local authorities to offer a universally free school meal scheme to its 15,600 pupils under a promise by Mayor of Newham Sir Robin Wales.

A council spokeswoman said the mayor had committed to pay 100pc of the costs after schools raised concerns regarding substantial cuts to their budgets by the government.

She said: “Our approach will ensure that we continue to deliver the mayoral promise of free school meals for all our primary children.”

The additional funding cost to the council will be £9,926,000 for three school years.

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