Free School Meals (Infants)

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 27th October 2014.

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Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge 2:30 pm, 27th October 2014

What steps she is taking to help schools deliver free school meals to all infant pupils.

Photo of David Laws David Laws The Minister of State, Cabinet Office, The Minister for Schools

Thanks to the hard work of schools, caterers and local authorities, free meals are now being offered to infants in schools across England. Some 98.5% of schools served hot meals from the beginning of September, which is a fantastic success, and by January 2015 we expect almost 100% of eligible schools to be delivering hot meals.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer and the policy. Having seen and tasted these meals in action in Cambridge, I can assure him that this policy is welcomed by pupils, staff and parents alike. However, an issue has been raised to do with the consequences for the pupil premium. How will he ensure that schools still get the pupil premium—another excellent policy—despite the fact that we are now giving free school meals?

Photo of David Laws David Laws The Minister of State, Cabinet Office, The Minister for Schools

I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend has been enjoying the free school meals in his constituency and sampling them in different establishments. He is right that pupil premium registration is extremely important, which is why we have given guidance to all schools in the country. From the pilot areas, we know it is achievable to ensure that pupil premium registration continues. In the medium term, we will explore data-sharing arrangements so that schools no longer have to deal with this burden themselves.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

Wylam first school is a big supporter of the free school meals programme. It has purchased the specific equipment needed, but has still not received the funding it is entitled to, given the guidance from the Department for Education. I have a meeting on this matter fairly soon with the Minister, but will he expedite it with his civil servants to ensure a resolution in weeks, not months?

Photo of David Laws David Laws The Minister of State, Cabinet Office, The Minister for Schools

I shall certainly follow up that issue on behalf of my hon. Friend. I am pleased to tell him that earlier this month the Department announced it was making available almost £25 million in additional capital to schools to support this policy. This money has come from an underspend in the existing free school meals budget.