Nick Clegg weighs in over decision to end funding for small schools’ free meals support

A decision to end funding for a grant aimed at helping small infant schools fund free meals has been criticised by former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.

The former Liberal Democrat leader has added his voice to criticism of the move after Schools Week revealed that the government had discontinued funding for the grant, worth £2,300 a year to schools with 150 pupils or fewer, some of which are already making a loss to feed their children.

The Department for Education (DfE) posted an update to its universal infant free school meals (UIFSM) website page at 4.25pm last Friday which revealed the small school support grant had been discontinued.

But the government has argued the it has “always been clear” the funding was temporary to help “small schools put their meal services on a more sustainable footing”.

Responding to the news, Mr Clegg, for whom the UIFSM policy was a key project during his party’s time in government, said the decision would have a “big impact” on some of the “smallest schools across the country”.

He said: “Combined with the Conservatives’ decision to impose a real terms cut to schools’ budgets it is going to make it even harder for schools to deliver the good quality education their pupils deserve.”

Schools with 150 or fewer pupils were this year given £2,300 to help deliver the government’s flagship policy of free meals for all children in their first three years at school, although the grant had already fallen from the minimum £3,000 handed out the previous year.

A DfE spokesperson said the government had provided more than £32.5 million extra as part of the pledge over two years, and that small schools could also use the UIFSM helpline and a toolkit produced to offer advice.

He said: “We know that schools around the country used the funding to rise to the challenge and are providing hot meals to infants at lunchtime, something that has been proven to aid concentration and attainment and is part of our drive for educational excellence everywhere.”

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