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Conservatives admit they don't know how much school breakfasts pledge will cost

Party admits it does not know how much it will cost to provide breakfasts for all 4.62 million primary school children in England

Rachael Pells
Education Correspondent
Wednesday 24 May 2017 13:32 BST
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This is the second time the party have backtracked on a manifesto policy in the past week, following a dramatic U-turn on the 'dementia tax' on Monday
This is the second time the party have backtracked on a manifesto policy in the past week, following a dramatic U-turn on the 'dementia tax' on Monday (Rex)

The Conservative Party has reportedly admitted it has no idea how much money it will cost to provide free school breakfasts to every primary school pupil in England.

In her manifesto last week, Theresa May announced plans to replace universal lunchtime meals for infants with free breakfasts for every pupil up to the age of 11.

The party said the move would save millions of pounds, calculating the cost of providing breakfasts alone at just £60m.

But officials have now admitted to Schools Week that the cost "will vary, depending on how many pupils at any given school take up this offer".

Critics had queried the £60m figure, with analysis by the weekly newspaper finding the party’s original costings would mean giving schools the equivalent of just 6.8p per pupil to pay for breakfasts.

Experts said that in reality at least three times that amount was needed in order to provide a healthy meal for all 4.62 million primary school children across the country.

Backtracking on previous statements made, the party is now refusing to confirm the correct amount set out in the plans.

Education Datalab analysis confirmed that even if only half the nation’s primary school children were to take up the offer, the meals would have to cost less than 13.6p each.

Overall, a more likely cost for the policy would come to around £400m.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT said: “It is extremely concerning to discover that the Conservatives have not properly costed their plans for subsidised school breakfasts.

"This calls into question their other plans for school funding and makes it very confusing for those of us with the best interests of children at heart to understand whether any of their school funding proposals will hold water.

”If the school breakfast plans haven't been thought through properly then the proposal to cut universal infant free school meals as well is even more worrying."

Theresa May’s plan to end free school lunches earned her the title of “lunch snatcher”, with the Education Policy Institute suggesting the move could cost more than one million of the country’s poorest families.

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The Conservatives said children from disadvantaged backgrounds would continue to get free hot lunches – as well as free breakfasts – throughout their education.

They argued that evidence showed that breakfast is as effective at helping children to learn at school as a hot lunch, while being delivered at a tenth of the cost – supposedly at about £60m a year.

Mr Hobby added: “School leaders will have a sense that this is just moving money around inside the system rather than a clear plan to invest in schools properly.

”With budgets at breaking point, schools cannot afford to implement policy ideas that aren't funded fully or fairly.“

Since backtracking on the figures, however, the policy has been left uncosted, prompting criticisms over how the move will be afforded.

A Conservative spokesperson confirmed the party was still offering funding to “allow all primary schools to offer a free breakfast club”, adding there had been “no change” to the manifesto pledge.

“The costs will vary depending on how many pupils at any given school take up this offer,” she said.

In a statement, the party said: “We will ensure that all primary schools can offer a free school breakfast to every child in every year of primary school as we set out in our manifesto – independent evidence shows this is a cost-effective way to improve education and health results for pupils.

“More broadly, we will increase the schools budget so that by 2021/22 we will be spending £4bn more on schools than now. This represents a real terms increase for every year of the Parliament, underpinned by a strong economy.”

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