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Farron Criticises Free School Meal Funding Cut As Rural Schools Are Hit

February 11, 2016 5:15 PM

Tim in KendalAlmost 100 small rural schools across Cumbria face a funding cut of £2300, following the government's decision to axe free school meals funding. South Lakeland MP Tim Farron has called for the government to provide support for these schools, amidst fears that teaching budgets will take the hit to make up for this.

The government has announced that it will cut support which helps small schools with 150 pupils or fewer fund universal free school meals for infants. In 2015/16, these schools received £2300 each to contribute towards the costs of the meals. Across Cumbria 98 small schools, many of which are in rural areas, will face this cut.

Although the government has insisted that this funding was a temporary measure to help schools, many experts have suggested that small schools will still not be able to break even on the provision of hot meals. As such, there are concerns that schools will have to take money from their teaching budgets in order to continue to provide free school meals.

Universal Free School Meals were a key Liberal Democrat policy delivered in the Coalition Government to provide every infant child in England with a healthy meal at lunchtime, saving families around £437 per child per year. Evidence shows that where children have been given a free school dinner, students were months ahead academically of their peers elsewhere. These academic improvements were most marked among children from less affluent families.

Tim said: "The Lib Dems were right to introduce free school meals under the coalition, as the evidence suggests that it helps to level the playing field between students. In order to do this, however, schools will need assistance with the costs involved.

"Small rural schools will be disproportionately hit by this cut. Unless the government continues to support the provision of free school meals in these schools, their ability to provide excellent teaching will be jeopardised as they have to use their other budgets to provide meals.

"Many small rural schools will not break even on the costs of producing hot meals, because they don't have the economies of scale that larger schools in urban areas have. The sad reality, therefore, is that they will have to dig into other budgets in order to fund this, yet this is money they need in order to deliver top quality teaching and learning."