There’s no such thing as a free lunch

When Nick Clegg announced that soon all children aged between 4 and 7 (Reception to Year 2) will be getting a free lunch, everybody should have been pleased.

My ambition is that every primary school pupil should be able to sit down to a hot, healthy lunch with their classmates every day,” declared Nick, pleased with himself. And we should be pleased too. An initiative that will cost £400 per child generously funded by our benevolent government. There’s nothing wrong with a free lunch. Everyone is happy.

Not in my school office.

The first response of the administrator there was to roll her eyes and cry, “Oh no!”

You see, Pupil Premium funding is a significant part of the budget at my school. Pupil Premium funding is calculated based on census returns that indicate how many families have qualified for free schools meals. However, to qualify for a free school meal, a form must be filled in.

This form is a constant battle for the administrators in our school office. Some families decide they don’t need free school meals, even though they qualify – maybe their child can’t stand school dinners, or they’re just too proud, or they simply didn’t know about it. Every year we have families who could qualify for free school meals but don’t. The battle is one of convincing and supporting families who do qualify to actually fill their forms in. When this is done, the family benefits directly by qualifying for free school meals, and indirectly because the school is funded an extra £900 per child.

Imagine the family who was on that cusp of not being too bothered about filling their form in. Now they don’t need to – this is going to be a bigger battle for our school administrators and if we lose, our children will miss out.

So I’m mainly thinking now about the strategies we are going to need to convince families that they really ought to fill their form in. But a small, cynical part of me – the part that has watched too much ‘Yes Minister’ – is wondering if this is a deliberate money saving ploy – pumping £400 per pupil into schools in the hope it may cut down on the amount spent on Pupil Premium funding.

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