Primary schools are being forced to ditch plans to buy new classroom and IT equipment to subsidise the cost of preparing for the UIFSM programme, it has been claimed.
Reports in the national press this week claim that headteachers are having to re-jig their budgets in order to be able to provide free meals to pupils from September.
The news confirms the fears of catering equipment suppliers who have warned that the £150m set aside by the government to upgrade kitchens would not stretch far enough.
The Daily Telegraph reported that Stephen Watkins, headmaster of Millfield School in Leeds, was having to divert funds from the school’s IT budget to pay for new kitchen equipment.
Speaking on a radio programme, he said he would need to find half the costs of new ovens, freezers and cookers from his school budget in order to feed an extra 60 children each day.
He said: “It will have to come out of the school budget. Having spent a fortnight on the school budget and putting my priorities for what I want to spend the money, I’ve now go to look and think: do I now not put WiFi in? Do I not buy tablets for children to use in order to pay for these cookers?
“It makes me quite cross for the government to say this will happen and they are fully funding it. That’s not right. The public should know they are not fully-funding it.”
The Guardian, meanwhile, reported that in Lincolnshire, the local authority has concluded that when the policy is introduced in September “it is clear that the county is likely to be under-resourced to meet need”.
“Lincolnshire is not in a good position,” the head of one school told the paper. He said he was having to find more than £10,000 from existing budgets to prepare for the additional free meals for reception, year-one and year-two classes.
“The local authority said at a meeting with heads that they saw it as a series of races: one which is a sprint to get ready for September, and the marathon afterwards to make it sustainable. They want to spend the main amount of money from the government on the marathon. They didn’t suggest how anyone was going to be able to make September work.”
Another teacher in Derbyshire, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said schools in his area faced a similar predicament. “A school in London that has its own kitchens or providers close to it, those authorities seem to have got the same funding per capita as us. No one has looked at Derbyshire and said, it’s a big rural authority, with schools with no kitchens, they are going to need £5m.”
In Bradford, meanwhile, the council is reported to be having difficulty finding the estimated £1.2m shortfall needed to upgrade equipment at 40 schools. The work may cost as much as £2.5m, but it has only been allocated £1.3m from central funds.
Ralph Berry, Bradford council’s executive member for children’s services, said the scheme lacked consultation between central and local government: “It has been dropped into our laps to try and make it work. The objectives are laudable but the timescale and implementation is nothing short of chaotic.”
He said the shortfall in capital funding provided by government was a “long way short” and Bradford may have to raid budgets designated for other projects to meet the extra costs.