School Meals: Finance

Department for Education written question – answered on 27th May 2022.

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Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with schools in England on the impact of inflation on the (a) size and (b) quality of school meals.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will make an assessment of the potential merits of increasing the cash for free school meals in primary schools, priced at £2.34 per meal.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the impact of reducing free school meal portions on the development of school children.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he has plans to amend the eligibility criteria for free school meals in the context of the increases in the cost of living.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, for what reason funding for free school meals for all children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 has not increased in line with inflation since that scheme was introduced in 2014.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Through the benefits-related criteria, the department provides a free healthy meal to around 1.7 million children, ensuring they are well-nourished and can concentrate, learn and achieve in the classroom. Under this government, eligibility for free school meals (FSM) has been extended several times and to more groups of children than any other government over the past half a century, including the introduction of universal infant FSM, and further education FSM.

In addition, the temporary extension of FSM eligibility to some groups with no recourse to public funds that has been in place since 2020 was extended to all groups and made permanent, subject to income thresholds.

The department thinks it is right that provision is aimed at supporting the most disadvantaged, those out of work or on the lowest income. We will continue to keep all FSM eligibility under review, to ensure that these meals are supporting those who most need them.

The department encourages all schools to promote healthy eating and provide healthy, tasty and nutritious food and drink. Compliance with the School Food Standards is mandatory for all maintained schools including academies and free schools.

It is for schools and caterers to decide what is an appropriate portion and to balance the food served across the school week. The guidance to accompany the School Food Standards includes guidance on portion sizes and food groups and is available on GOV.UK at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-food-standards-resources-for-schools.

Schools are responsible for the provision of school meals and may enter individual contracts with suppliers and caterers to meet this duty. The department is confident that schools will continue providing pupils with nutritious school meals as required by the School Food Standards. In recognition of cost pressures, after the National Funding Formula rates were set, we received additional funding from Her Majesty’s Treasury for core schools funding in the 2022/23 financial year, which we distributed through a schools supplementary grant. As a result of this additional funding, core schools funding for mainstream schools is increasing by 2.5 billion in 2022/23, compared to last year.

The department holds regular meetings with other government departments and with food industry representatives, covering a variety of issues including public sector food supplies. We also spend around £600 million per year ensuring around 1.3 million infants enjoy a free, healthy, and nutritious meal at lunchtime following the introduction of the universal infant free school meal policy in 2014. The per meal rate of £2.34 per child was increased in the 2020/21 financial year. The funding rate for the 2022/23 financial year will be published with the funding allocations in June.

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