Free Infant Meals Versus Free Primary Breakfasts

Today it has been announced by the Conservatives that, if they are elected on the 8th June, they are planning to scrap Free Infant Meals, and replace them with Free Primary School Breakfasts. The claim is that they will be able to save around £650 million, and replacing them with free breakfasts will cost only a mere £10 million.  Sounds like a no brainer? But is it?

For those who don’t know, the Free Infant Meals scheme began in September 2014.  The aim was for all children in the first 3 years of Primary School, to be entitled to a free nutritious meal at lunch time. At the time it was stated that the scheme would:

  • improve educational attainment and children’s social skills and behaviour;
  • ensure that children have access to at least one healthy meal each day, and support the development of long term healthy eating habits;
  • help families with the cost of living, saving an average of £437 per eligible child;
  • ensure children have the right amount of energy and nutrients to sustain them during the afternoon.

All very admirable!  So schools got on board (after all, what else could they do?) and millions of pounds were spent on upgrading or setting up kitchens, hiring staff and getting organised.The impact of this? Well, as yet there doesn’t seem to be any hard evidence to suggest the educational impact, but, as a parent myself, it has been lovely knowing that the children are having a good meal at school and removing the stress of providing packed lunches every morning.

My concerns? As a parent, I haven’t had many – I’m not particularly looking forward to having to organise packed lunches when Little Miss goes to Year 3 in September, but that’s about it.  As a teacher or Headteacher? We know that good food is key to helping children to concentrate and learn, but not extending it to children in Years 3 to 6 meant that some of the more vulnerable older children were really missing out.

So…will replacing Free Infant Meals with a Free Breakfast for all Primary School children do the trick? I can definitely see the benefits.  Again, we know that a good breakfast is key to helping children to learn.  Just from running a Breakfast Club for Year 6 children during SATs week, we saw that the children were calmer, more able to concentrate, more sociable from the beginning of the day and more awake and alert. The Institute for Fiscal Studies carried out research back in 2014/15 which clearly showed the impact a free breakfast in schools could have on both the educational and social well being of children.

There will, however, as in all schemes, be some downsides.  For some children, it is hard enough getting to school on time every day.  To be asking children to come in even earlier could cause a much bigger gap in absence. There’s also the unseen costs – recruiting enough staff with the costs that involves (always hard to do, but I would imagine even harder to do when they would only be needed potentially for an hour first thing in the morning) and staff training. And then of course there is the issue of space.  In 2 or 3 form entry schools, having all the children in the dining room is just not feasible – so logistics will play a huge part.

However, I do think, ultimately, that it is a good idea.  It would ensure that ALL children start the day with a good breakfast inside them.  I think, on the face of it, this is a much better idea than only providing meals for the first 3 years!

I’d love to know what your thoughts are on the idea of scrapping Free Infant Meals? Do you think it would have any impact, or is it just another scheme cooked up by the Government to bring in votes but not actually benefit our children?

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