I was reminded this week that I had promised a post on the delightful piece of government policy that is free school meals for F2, Y1 and Y2 as of September 2014. So here you go.
The headline for my school is: unwanted, unnecessary, more trouble than it can ever be worth.
Our context: We’re a 1 form entry primary school with no recent history of serving school dinners. Every child brings a packed lunch, which they eat in the hall over about a 45 minute period – FS and KS1 start eating at 12:15, and KS2 eat on a rota, starting at either 12:15 or about 12:40, once the first half are out. The few children we have on FSM are provided with a packed lunch. We have no kitchen, and no space for one either, not without building new classrooms. (In case you were wondering, no, we can’t afford to do this).
Providing hot food: our current plan is to have this brought in from off site, and to have a couple of heated trolley type things in the hall to serve from. We’ll also need an industrial dishwasher, and somewhere to store plates and cutlery. Not insurmountable, but pricey.
Time: At the moment, the hall is normally tidied and cleaned by about 1:30, leaving enough time for a PE lesson in that first session after lunch (1:15 to 2:15). I can foresee that with hot dinners needing clearing up, it will no longer be practical to use that session for indoor PE, effectively cutting hall avaliability from 20 sessions a week to 15 – a cut of 25%. It will be very difficult for every class to get two sessions of PE per week, especially in the winter when both lessons are often taught indoors. So FSM will have a direct, and negative, impact on our ability to deliver the curriculum.
Money: Yes, there is funding avaliable. But think ahead a couple of years. School budgets are not exactly generous. Dinner ladies will need to be employed for longer hours in order to prepare and clear hot dinners. For a school like ours, where this has not traditionally been part of our budget, where will the money come from? Could it be that we have to reduce our numbers of support staff to pay for lunch time staff? Again, a directly negative impact on children’s learning.
Implementation: As so many people have pointed out, the timescale for this is just ridiculous. This is diverting time and attention at a time when we are already trying to get to grips with a new curriculum. Headteachers have got better things to be thinking about right now, in my opinion.
As a policy soundbite, it’s great: a free hot dinner for your little darlings. As something for schools to actually have to implement: a nightmarish distraction.
For more things to consider with implementation, do check out not very jolley’s post: USFM Top Ten