Far Too Expensive, Doesn’t Even Work, And Causes Additional New Problems?

Must be a LibDem policy!

Even within the Liberal Democrats, not everyone is convinced. The MP for North Devon, Nick Harvey, certainly doesn’t think it’s the right way to spend £1bn and believes his party leader has wasted such a large sum by failing to target the children most in need.

Free school meals, Harvey maintains, have always traditionally been a social policy, with elements of health benefits attached. “The boost to educational attainment was always the icing on the cake,” he says. “The [free school meals pilot] report made the observation that the [academic] results were hardly startling, and if your primary aim was to improve academic attainment, there are plenty of other things you could have done that were better value.”

Yes, it’s Clegg’s TSBSATAAFL* policy again. Proving to be an even worse idea than first thought.

According to research by the thinktank Education Foundation on a range of interventions, he’s right. Oral language interventions, at a cost of up to £170 per pupil per year, boosted educational progress by five months. Peer tutoring, at the same cost, led to a six-month boost. For universal free school meals, the boost was four weeks at Key Stage 1 and eight weeks at KS2 but only if all children in a school got them.

Gosh, politician’s promises heave less shelf life than a curly sandwich produced by the lowest bidder, don’t they?

Ellen Greaves, senior research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, who co-authored the pilot evaluation often cited by Clegg, says the conclusions are not all that exhaustive. “From the pilot evidence, we cannot definitely conclude that attainment will be raised through the universal provision of free school meals to reception, year one and year two children,” she says. “I wouldn’t feel confident that it would raise attainment in all areas of the country.”

And even worse, as we saw before, it’s causing yet more problems:

It’s six months since headteacher Emma Payne opened a new kitchen to provide hot meals for her pupils. The problems of starting up are in the past. But now there are new issues to deal with. Because the meals are free, fewer parents are claiming free school meals, and that is going to cost the school £9,240 in pupil premium.

I’d laugh, if the ‘answer’ weren’t likely to mean yet more money thrown at the inefficient state:

Some school leaders are now saying that a new system must be found to ensure that the most vulnerable children get the pupil premium they are entitled to.

Given that this was a totally foreseeable problem, why has it been left to post-implementation?

If this all sounds a bit hit and miss, that’s because it is. Are schools trying hard enough to get parents to apply? When restaurateur, school governor and School Food Plan co-author Henry Dimbleby tweeted last year that “the trick” to getting parents to claim free school meals was simply “to ask them”, it provoked pained expressions from heads and school business managers who had been trying to do exactly that.

Clearly, the people who have invented this scheme don’t have the first clue what the ‘customers’ of such a scheme are like.

Payne says she “completely gets” why families under strain may not prioritise yet another school admin request with no obvious benefit. Children are, after all, already getting a free lunch, and the premium goes to the school, not the family. “There can also be a question of pride or worries about stigma,” she says.

And there can also be the attitude that hey,’ the government’s feeding my kids, why should I bother to fill in the paperwork?’ too…

Given that local authorities, which administer benefit claims, hold all the information needed to assess families’ FSM entitlement, there is bafflement as to why the system isn’t being simplified. “What makes a lot of the school business managers cross is that this information could perfectly well be collated by government or the local authority, which have the data,” says Metcalfe.

Well, quite! Isn’t the whole point of having such a vast state to make our lives easier?

That’s what they keep telling us, anyway.

A DfE spokesperson said the vast majority of eligible parents still claim free meals, but “we are exploring ideas about the best way to identify disadvantaged pupils automatically in the long term”.

Why didn’t you do this before the scheme launched?

*There Shall Be Such A Thing As A Free Lunch

10 comments for “Far Too Expensive, Doesn’t Even Work, And Causes Additional New Problems?

  1. Ed P
    March 4, 2015 at 10:17 am

    Local authorities are like cancers on society – they never willingly shrink. Quite obviously, if they already know which families qualify, there’s no need for parents to fill in forms, thus rendering whole departments redundant.
    I suggest they take on more staff to investigate, and then write long and tedious reports, about how they can expand the bureaucracy to cope with less work.

    • March 15, 2015 at 6:46 am

      This was an utter train-wreck that everyone could see coming…except those ‘world class’ civil servants. How come?

  2. March 4, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    If it’s a cocked-up, pointless policy that causes unforeseen problems that causes problems for ordinary people then the Liberal Democrats are the party to choose.

    Still, at least this Lib Dem MP has the decency to state that he is a Lib Dem MP, unlike the prospective Lib Dem candidate for Hereford who is so ashamed of her party that she relegates the party name to tiny type that is barely legible, on an obsurce part of a leaflet.

    When Clegg proposed this new free school meals for all policy I for one thought that it will all end up in tears, and here, straight from the mouth, of a Lib Dem, is the proof.

    It does make me wonder about Lib Dem voters. The party has been comprehensively shown, since becoming a governing party, that they are a bunch of shysters, perverts and perjurers with a worrying tendency to see everything that comes out of Brussells as wonderful.

    What sort of person would vote for such a discredited, incompetent and often malevolent mob?

    The Lib Dems are not so much a political party as a lunatic asylum for the politically deranged.

    • Daedalus
      March 4, 2015 at 5:25 pm

      Yup. You got it in one. Then quite rightly added some more.

    • March 15, 2015 at 6:47 am

      What does that make the Greens…? 😆

  3. Errol
    March 4, 2015 at 8:36 pm

    Free school meals are an idiotic idea. They take responsibility from the family and places it with the state which, of course, loves the power and the further erosion of the family unit.

    As for a tutor getting the best results – an involved parent does much the same. However, it is far easier to spend other people’s money than to make people take responsibility for their lives

  4. David
    March 5, 2015 at 8:48 am

    At my son’s school the meals are so small that he arrives home hungry.
    BTW I know that I should feed him myself however they take our taxes to provide these meals whether he eats them.
    However it is useful in showing why socialism is a bad idea, sadly few seem to be learning from it.

  5. Kevin
    March 5, 2015 at 10:50 am

    What on earth is a ‘school business manager’?

    • Mudplugger
      March 5, 2015 at 8:40 pm

      Remember when your local council was so efficiently run by the ‘Town Clerk’ but it now needs a ‘Chief Executive’ with a support team to do the same job for five times the salary ?
      Well it’s the same with schools. The old ‘school clerk’ and ‘secretary’ have been replaced by a monster admin department, headed by the ‘Business Manager’, one assumes to ‘do the business’.
      That’s progress, apparently.

  6. Furor Teutonicus
    March 7, 2015 at 7:08 am

    XX Peer tutoring, at the same cost, led to a six-month boost. XX

    How can “Hej, you, Jimmy! Teach Freddy to read will you!” cost ANYTHING?

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