Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales reminds us that the borough have been serving free school lunches for years

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- Credit: Archant

The much publicised guidance that the Department for Education issued last week on how schools should be implementing the Coalition Government’s free school meals plan was embarrassing.

Newham has been serving free lunches to all primary school pupils since 2009. For the past two years we’ve funded the programme ourselves after the Government ditched paying for the original pilot scheme.

That they did so without proper evidence was bad enough, but the fact they now want schools to implement free lunches without providing them with adequate funding or increasing their capacity shows the programme hasn’t been thought through.

We deliver free school meals to all our primary school children, not just Years 1 and 2 as the Government now plan. We will continue to fund this initiative – almost £5m per year – without their help and in the face of savage grant cuts because we believe spending money on giving our young people the best start in life is the right thing to do. And the programme also saves hard-working families more than £500 per child.

Current take up is at 93 per cent and that is thanks to a successful partnership with schools. The Government could learn from us. Their overly centralised approach will fail children and mean a programme that should be benefiting many up and down the country will fall short.


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A mainstream programme like this needs to be local authority led to offer differing levels of support to schools and deliver the most impact. It’s not too late for the Government to take heed.

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