Universal infant free school meals are here to stay, the schools minister Nick Gibb has announced today, confirming a U-turn on controversial plans from the Conservative Party’s manifesto.
Gibb told MPs in parliament today that, having listened to feedback from schools, the government has decided that it is “right to retain” the existing universal infant free school meals provision.
It is the latest in a series of U-turns on controversial manifesto policies and comes after plans to lift the ban on new grammar schools were shelved.
The unpopular plans to save £650 million by stopping free meals for all infant schools in favour of an entirely means-tested policy for all primary school pupils prompted criticism when they were announced during the election campaign.
However, the announcement raises fresh questions about the government’s manifesto pledge to increase the overall schools budget by £4 billion, most of which was due to be funded through scrapping universal infant free school meals.
Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, pressed Gibb on the government’s spending plans and Carol Monaghan, the Scottish National Party’s education spokesperson, demanded “urgent confirmation” on how ministers will stand by their manifesto pledge to make sure no school has its budget cut.
Gibb said the government was in the process of looking at the 25,000 responses to its consultation on proposals for a new national funding formula, and would respond with its plans in due course.
The Conservative party had pledged to introduce free school breakfasts for primary pupils, which it would have funded through the money saved by scrapping infant free lunches.
However it is not clear whether that proposal still stands.
Robert Goodwill, the minister for children and families, in response to a parliamentary question has said: “We are reflecting on our programmes in relation to school meals and will come forward with proposals in due course.”