Universal Infant Free School Meals in Cornwall
Monday saw the start of a new school year. For those children in KS1 they will see the introduction of a free school meal (UIFSM) for all in that Key Stage. The reason for this is the Government believes that children having a meal at school is better for their learning and attainment; and anything that helps with a child’s education is surely a good thing?
For Cornwall, the project of UIFSM has not been plain sailing. In fact, implementing this project could have ended in disaster due to the lack of forethought on implementation by the Government. As local authorities and schools across the land pointed out many schools do not have adequate kitchen facilities, or even kitchens at all to implement this new Government policy. This resulted in the Government having to make available funding for new kitchens. However, the award of this funding did seemed without logic and based on pupil numbers rather than what facilities were needed. In Cornwall, excluding most academies who applied to the EFA directly, the Council was given £846k to deliver a project costed £1.4 million. A half a million shortfall in funding. This put the Council in a very difficult position of how to fund this shortfall and still deliver the programme by September 2014.
At first and to make sure the project could be delivered, money was taken from the schools maintenance money to fund this project. Of course the Council asked the Government for this shortfall, but were rebuffed and told to fund it out of existing budgets. Not really helpful when we are delivering their project.
The impact on the school maintenance fund and how that would have affected schools would have not been good. However, so no school was put at a disadvantage in their maintenance programme, the Schools Forum agreed to fund this shortfall out of the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG). I am grateful to the School Forum for agreeing to fund this. This money is still school money and therefore could have been spent elsewhere, rather than finding a shortfall.
To make this project deliverable the Council undertook a large evolution of surveying kitchens, and from those surveys nearly half needed new facilities and updated facilities. In fact out of those 112 which needed work, 80% needed large-scale works with a couple of schools had to have completely new kitchens. There was an added pressure of most of the work could only be carried out over the summer holiday period.
It is to huge credit to the teams at Cornwall Council and Cormac who delivered all but three schools on time. The three schools who could not be treated on time will be still able to provide a packed lunch as a very temporary measure for a week or so.
Now the kitchens have been provided, the school are now able to provide those meals to the infants. It is up to the schools and the governing body if all infants receive a meal, or it is an opt-in option.
Furthermore, If the Government expands the free school meal programme into KS2, then I urge the Government to talk to schools and local authorities first to see what they need Rather than putting additional pressures on schools and local authorities to deliver in increasing budget pressures again caused by the stinging cuts to local government.