Tories to promise schools an extra £650m a year by scrapping free infant lunches

18th May 2017 at 00:01
School lunches
Free breakfasts for all primary pupils to be introduced instead in plan that party says will protect all schools under a new national funding formula.

The Conservatives are to promise schools an extra £650m a year by replacing universal free lunches for infants with free school breakfasts for all primary pupils.

The party says the plan, expected to be unveiled in its manifesto later today, will mean that no school loses out under the new national schools funding formula.

It is part of a package that would boost school funding by £4bn over the next Parliament.

However it may still not be enough to protect schools from the cost pressures that are leading to growing numbers of teacher job losses.  

The news comes after school funding has risen up the political agenda during the early weeks of the general election campaign.

A Conservative spokesman said: "We have protected and increased school funding to the highest level on record but we accept there is more we can do. This extra money means no child will lose out."

The core schools budget in 2017-18 is £40.9bn and under the Tory plans that figure would be £4bn higher in real terms in 2021-22, requiring an extra £1bn a year.

As well as the £650m saving from scrapping universal infant free school lunches, there would be £200m from "better systems" for the Student Loans Companies, £160m from "departmental efficiencies" in Whitehall and £10m from the levy on sugary drinks.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have already made bigger pledges to improve school funding with packages of £5bn and £7bn respectively.

With pressure mounting from Tory backbench MPs, who will see their local schools being hit by a double whammy of rising costs and the controversial new national funding formula, it was expected that the Conservatives were likely to offer something to ease the situation.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that it would take an annual £350m to ensure that no school loses out from the formula alone if it is introduced from 2019/20.

So the Conservative money should be enough to achieve that aim. But ensuring that school budgets do not fall in real terms may require more.

Last week Tes revealed previously unpublished data that shows how the Department for Education believes it is possible for schools to save billions of pounds by cutting in a range areas including teacher pay.

The Conservatives plan to end universal free lunches for infants comes in contrast to the other two main parties who have both said they would extend the scheme to all primary pupils.

The free infant lunch school policy was a flagship Liberal Democrat scheme during the coalition era and the party condemned the decision to scrap it last night.

Lib Dem education spokeswoman Sarah Olney said: "Margaret Thatcher was know as the 'milk snatcher'. Theresa May will go down as the lunch snatcher.

"Children under Theresa May will go hungry: it is that stark, and that heartless. But she just doesn't care."

  

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