The Conservatives have announced plans to scrap universal infant free school meals in favour of free breakfasts for all primary school pupils, and say they will pump £4 billion into schools to provide a “funding floor” for schools in the new funding formula.
According to the party, which will release its manifesto today, the additional revenue funding for schools will have ensure no child will lose out through the government’s new fair funding formula, at a cost of £335 million a year. They will also protect the pupil premium.
It comes after several senior Conservative backbenchers demanded a move to protect schools from losing out under the new formula. A recent investigation by Schools Week found that almost all of the worst-funded areas under the proposed scheme were represented by Tory MPs.
The funding pledge involves adding £4 billion to the overall schools budget by 2022, which they claim represents “more than a real-terms increase for every year of the parliament” when compared to current spending plans.
It means the party needs to find an additional £1 billion per year, £650 million of which will come from scrapping universal infant free school meals, which the Conservatives believe is “not the best use of public money”
The rest of the savings will be found through “better systems” for the student loans companies (£200 million), departmental efficiencies (£160 million) and the soft drinks levy (£10 million).
The Conservatives estimate free breakfasts will cost £60 million a year, and claim that they have listened to both the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Association of School and College Leaders, both of which have suggested that breakfasts could be a better investment than free lunches.
However, the injection comes in the context of further significant cuts faced by schools as a result of unfunded cost pressures like salary, pension and national insurance rises and other unexpected costs like the apprenticeship levy.
It is also less than what was pledged by Labour, which wants to spend an additional £6.3 billion on schools over the next parliament, including plans to extend universal free school lunches to all primary pupils.
A consultation on the new funding formula closed in March, and the Conservatives say that “parents, teachers and MP” have all called for a “funding floor to protect some schools from losing out in any shake up”.
A spokesperson claimed the party had increased school funding “to the highest level on record” but accepted there was “more we can do”.
“This extra money means no child will lose out,” he said.
The party will release the rest of its manifesto later today.