Lessons under threat as small schools struggle to pay for free lunches

Hundreds of small primaries may have to cut lessons in order to provide lunches for infants, as they struggle to meet the government’s free school meals pledge, TES has learned.

The policy of giving every child aged 5-7 a free school meal was introduced last year, despite concerns that many small schools did not have the facilities to prepare the food.

Now, hundreds of primaries may have to cut provision in subjects such as music to pay for lunches. Funding allocated by the government is not enough to cover the costs, according to the National Association of Small Schools (NASS).

Henry Dimbleby, one of the architects of the scheme and a co-founder of restaurant chain Leon, told TES that he had warned the government about the cost implications for small schools right from the start.

“We have always said there needs to be more money,” he said. “It’s not tens of thousands per school, it’s a few thousand. Small schools do have a structural issue. The government recognises that and we expect a permanent solution will be found to help those schools.”

Barbara Taylor, secretary of the NASS, which represents 500 schools with 100 pupils or fewer, stressed her support for the principle of free school meals. But she added: “I am the chair of governors of a primary school with just 46 pupils and it is going to cost us £9,000 to supplement free school meals. We are now discussing whether we can hire extra staff to teach music.”

Most NASS member schools faced the same dilemma, Ms Taylor said.

To read the article in full, get the14 August edition of TES on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents

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