During the recent local election in Southwark, Labour made a pledge to introduce free school meals to all primary school children across the borough. This was unfunded. They probably didn't expect to win (they weren't the only ones, sadly). Anyway, they did and now they are trying to find ways to fulfil this pledge or maybe a way of backing out of it while saving face...
Primary schools in Southwark are being invited to take part in a local pilot beginning in September. Schools taking part will choose 1 year group, those children will be offered free school meals and the school will be offered additional support in working with children, school staff and parents/carers on understanding the benefits of healthy meals on long-term health and wellbeing and maintenance of a healthy weight. The findings will then be analysed alongside the results of 3 ongoing national pilots (in Newham, Wolverhampton & Durham) to inform the roll-out to all schools in the borough.
Several things about this idea trouble me. Firstly, the 3 national pilots have been up and running for 1 year already and are being co-ordinated by the DfE, with research ongoing by NCSR , into not simply the issue of obesity but also behaviour, concentration and academic attainment. The Southwark approach seems a bit of a stop-gap, 'on the hoof' idea with no real focus. Why do this when a national, properly funded study is mid-way along and will report its findings about 18 months from now? How is the study of 1 year group per school going to, for instance, inform the Council about the capital investment necessary to enable that school to offer free school meals to all its pupils? It just seems a bit pointless - as if they have to be seen to be acting on their pledge, so they have come up with this. In the meantime, it will be increasingly obvious that it is unaffordable and they will be able to say that they tried but the Coalition government policies made it impossible.
Maybe the real question is why, after 13 years of a Labour government the key measure of child poverty ie FSM take-up, is relatively unchanged in Southwark.