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Plans to axe free lunches for infant school children shelved

The Conservatives had proposed offering a free breakfast for all primary school pupils instead.

Plans to axe free lunches for infant school children have been shelved, the schools minister has said.

Nick Gibb said the Government would “retain the existing provision” after being pressed by shadow education secretary Angela Rayner on Conservative proposals to scrap the lunches and instead offer a free breakfast for all primary school pupils.

He told MPs: “We have listened very carefully to the views of the sector on the proposal to remove infant free school meals and we have decided that it is right to retain the existing provision.

“Universal infant free school meals ensure that children receive a nutritious meal during the day – it saves hard-working families hundreds of pounds a year and it boosts educational achievement, especially amongst children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.”

During the election campaign, the Tories said evidence showed a free school breakfast is as effective at helping children learn as a hot meal at lunch and can be delivered at a 10th of the cost – around £60 million a year.

However, school leaders warned that hundreds of millions of pounds pumped into funding the free dinners would be wasted, while celebrity chef Jamie Oliver said the plans were “misguided”.

The Tories cast doubt this week on whether they would continue with the manifesto pledge in an answer to a parliamentary written question, in which Education Minister Robert Goodwill said the Government was “reflecting on our programmes in relation to school meals”.

Labour’s Wes Streeting (Ilford North), who submitted the question, said he was “really disappointed” that the Government appeared to be “stalling” on the promise for free breakfasts.

He said he believed free school lunches were “enormously beneficial in terms of tackling childhood obesity and promoting healthy eating amongst young people”.

But he said there was evidence that primary school breakfast provision had both “health and educational benefits”.

During an urgent question in the Commons on education funding, Ms Rayner asked Mr Gibb: “They promised an extra £4 billion for schools in their manifesto – is that now Government policy and how much of that is for each year?

“They were going to raise the money by scrapping infant school meals – is that still policy?

“Will he provide universal free breakfasts in primary schools, and does he finally have proper costings for this?”

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Robert Goodwill said the Government was "reflecting on our programmes" (PA)

Ms Rayner claimed the DUP deal made the party’s leader Arlene Foster the “most expensive right-winger since Cristiano Ronaldo”.

She asked Mr Gibb: “Can he confirm that was an increase in school funding of £150 per pupil in Northern Ireland, and is there any extra treasury funding for education in the rest of the country, or not?”

Mr Gibb also promised that no school would have its budget cut as a result of the national funding formula, which aims to making funding fair for schools.

He said: “It’s important that we consider how to proceed, and as outlined in our manifesto, we will make sure that no school has its budget cut as a result of the new formula and we remain committed to working with Parliament and bringing forward proposals that will command a consensus.

“We will set out our plans shortly.”

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