INFANTS in primary schools will continue to get free lunches, the government announced yesterday in its second U-turn in 24 hours.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb revealed that the government would “retain the existing provision” after being challenged by shadow education secretary Angela Rayner over wanting to axe the universal free meals.
The plan was to replace the lunches with free breakfast for all primary school pupils. Ms May faced ridicule after it emerged the money set aside for this amounted to just 7p.
Mr Gibb, in announcing the second climbdown after the plan to hold a free vote over repealing the fox hunting ban was ditched, admitted to MPs that free school lunches help boost academic achievements of children, especially those from impoverished backgrounds.
And with reduced school funding for employees, up to 17,000 school dinner staff were at risk of losing their jobs, the GMB union said.
Its general secretary Tim Roache said: “Snatching lunches from school kids is a spectacularly bad idea and a surefire vote loser.
“It’s taken far too long for them to admit it, but the government has seen sense in the end — the argument shouldn’t be how we can take food away from hungry children, but how we can make sure no child or young person goes hungry full stop.”
National Union of Teachers (NUT) general secretary Kevin Courtney said the U-turn was a major victory.
He said: “It is hard to credit that a Conservative government was seriously considering taking the food off young children’s plates.
“Teachers and parents will remain concerned, however, about the huge gap in finances that is resulting in cuts to education up and down the country.
“The Conservatives had pledged ‘additional funding’ for schools during the election. Schools, teachers and parents need urgent assurance from government that new money will be provided to tackle the growing crisis in school funding.
“This is truly urgent; schools need £2bn by September.”
During the urgent Commons question on schools funding, Ms Rayner pressured Mr Gibb to answer whether government promises to guarantee funding for schools would be backed by new money and by not making cuts elsewhere.
Prime Minister Theresa May and Education Secretary Justine Greening were also criticised by Ms Rayner for being absent from the session.
She asked Mr Gibb whether the increase in school funding of £150 per pupil in Northern Ireland — through the Tories’ £1bn deal with the DUP — would also apply to children elsewhere in Britain.
Mr Gibb claimed that no school would see less funding per pupil as a result of a new national funding formula, and that the government would set out its plans “shortly.”
On Monday, it was revealed that head teachers will this week send letters to MPs warning that their schools are “running on empty.”
More than 4,000 head teachers across 17 counties are writing to their MPs urging them to use their influence to secure sustainable additional funding for all schools.
It follows a similar letter to more than one million families last month, in which head teachers warned that they were faced with having to make tough decisions over redundancies, scrapping subjects of study, and even closing schools early because of funding shortages.