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Stop free school meals to boost education funding, says Tory MP

Anne Main also believes ring-fencing cash for foreign aid is ‘crazy’ and should be scrutinised.

Universal free meals for infants should be scrapped to help the “undue” funding pressures facing schools, a Tory backbencher has suggested.

Anne Main argued her party’s decision to drop its manifesto commitment was “misguided” and the party “should have investigated that further”.

The St Albans MP added it was “crazy” to ring-fence “huge sums of money for foreign aid” when the education budget lacked funding.

She said parliamentarians should have chance to debate “this misplaced policy”.

Speaking during her Westminster Hall debate on school funding, she said: “Just like I don’t want to see any budgets that should be used for pupils who are at the poorest end of the margins taken away, I don’t want to see wealthier parents being cross-subsidised when they don’t need it.”

The aid budget should be under the same scrutiny and pressures as other departments’ budgets Anne Main MP

Mrs Main added: “I’m a great supporter of good aid projects that have been done across the world but it seems crazy to me that we ring-fence huge sums of money for foreign aid when vital public services such as our education budget lack funding.

“The aid budget should be under the same scrutiny and pressures as other departments’ budgets because effectively we’re shovelling money out the door to meet arbitrary targets set in law.”

Mrs Main said it did not seem right that more and more schools were “having to go cap in hand” to parents for even the most basic provisions such as text books.

She warned schools were not were “not feeling the effects” of “record” levels of funding and “disappointed” head teachers were calling for more resources to help meet the “ever-rising costs and additional financial burdens” being placed upon them, such as bigger National Insurance contributions.

Fellow Conservative and former education minister Tim Loughton spoke of a “sense of deja vu” as he called for “greater clarity” over real-terms funding.

He warned staffing costs in some of his schools had reached 90% of their budget, becoming “unsustainable”.

Mr Loughton said the “shortfall is a false economy”.

The MP for East Worthing and Shoreham said counselling levels had fallen due to cutbacks, adding: “(This is) not scaremongering, this is going on now.”

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Schools Minister Nick Gibb has introduced a new funding formula (PA)

Lib Dem Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) cautioned of a paring down in the breadth of the curriculum due to a lack of funding.

Labour’s Rachael Maskell (York Central) said outcomes were being impacted by the “crisis” in funding.

Shadow schools minister Mike Kane urged ministers to “remove their heads from the sand”.

He added: “The £1.3 billion additional funding announced by the Secretary of State is nowhere near enough to reverse the £2.8 billion that has been cut since 2015.”

Schools minister Nick Gibb said the introduction of the national funding formula meant that for the first time this year cash was distributed to local authorities based on the individual needs and characteristics of every school in the country.

The “historic reform” was the “biggest improvement to school funding for a decade and it was “directing resources where they are needed most”, he said.

Mr Gibb said: “We are determined to create an education system that offers opportunity to everyone no matter what their circumstances or where they live.

“And that’s why we have delivered on our promise to reform the unfair opaque and outdated school funding system by introducing the national funding formula for schools, something that previous Governments have shied away from – including the previous Labour Government.”

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