From September 2014, the Government introduced a new policy for primary schools to provide free school meals to all children under the age of seven.
We surveyed senior leadership staff to find out their opinions on the policy. The results showed a big divide in both the impact and the effectiveness of UIFSM.
How schools have adapted
Following the announcement of the new policy, we found that 89% of primary schools in England had to make some kind of change to accommodate the new requirements.
As a result of the new scheme:
- Half (49%) of schools required extra staff
- Two thirds (63%) had to spend money on more equipment
- And a quarter (24%) had to expand their kitchen facilities
A number of schools received additional funding from their LEAs in order to make these changes, with some schools building new kitchen facilities.
However, when asked if their school had an adequate budget to make the required changes, 32% of respondents said they did not.
One head teacher from a primary school in Wokingham described how:
“It’s irritating to have to spend money on dining room tables and chairs at a time of significant change to the curriculum and assessment. Money would be better spent on resources.”
Another school in Gloucestershire has faced problems with hiring staff to monitor the dining room during lunch times:
“There is a real issue with finding staff for the support roles. We cannot find any midday supervisors.”
The effect on pupil premiums
Perhaps the most troubling results from the survey were that 70% of head teachers and school business managers believed that parents still did not understand the new system for school meals.
There is lots of concern in schools about pupil premium funding because of this.
As the terminology for Free School Meals (FSM) and Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) is similar, there has been confusion over parents registering their children.
For parents who receive income benefits, children must be registered directly with the school as being eligible for free school meals. For every child registered for FSM, the school receives additional pupil premium funding from the Government.
But as school meals are now provided free to every pupil under seven, many parents no longer see the need to register their children themselves.
The result is a reduction in the numbers eligible for the pupil premium, and concerns over future school budgets.
One head teacher from an infant school in the South East stated: “It has had the effect of reducing the number of applications for pupil premium funding despite continued explanation.”
Another head from the North East described how: “The system is working to the detriment of Pupil Premium as parents are now not applying for FSM so our budget will suffer as a consequence.”
Has it been a success?
Despite the need for further education to parents, many primary schools consider UIFSM to have been a success.
55% of those surveyed believed it has had a positive impact, with teachers praising the nutritional benefits it’s had for the whole school, and the knowledge that all children will have at least one hot meal a day.
More than 50% of respondents would like to see the policy rolled out across older age groups.
However, that still leaves almost half of schools who don’t consider the issue to have been a success.
47% don’t believe the changes have been effective, and many schools have described lots of food waste, low quality meals, and overcrowding at lunch time.
One head teacher from a school in the West Midlands explained the detrimental effect of UIFSM:
“It has had a negative impact on the older children as the younger children take so long to eat and there are more of them than previously. The older children feel they are being treated differently (in a more negative way). It has had a negative impact on our ability to offer themed lunch times.”
So whilst Universal Infant Free School Meals has been a huge success for numerous schools across England, there are just as many which have not benefitted at all. It seems opinion is divided 50/50.
What do you think? Has your school benefitted from UIFSM or have you not seen any impact? Do you think the policy will affect your pupil premium? Share your comments below.