Delyn MP criticises plan to give all primary school children in Wales free school meals
Delyn MP Rob Roberts has criticised the plan laid out in the Plaid Cymru and Labour cooperation agreement to give all primary school children in Wales free school meals.
The Conservative MP said that he himself had received free school meals and wanted a more targeted approach for those who needed help the most.
“Some 35 years ago, I benefitted from free school meals when my parents were in a difficult situation and in need of support,” he said. “There was no stigma, no embarrassment or issue with that at all.”
“People talk a lot about stigma. I respectfully submit that there is no stigma, other than when well-meaning people keep saying that there is.
“In reality, there is absolutely no shame in people falling on hard times and needing some help. It can happen to the best of us.
He added that the Welsh Government should ask headteachers where they thought the money should be spent.
“Would you rather have free meals for every child, even those whose parents make £100,000 a year, or would you rather have 2/3 new teachers, 5/6 more classroom assistants, etc?” he asked.
“I suspect the vast majority of them would rather have these massive amounts of resources focussed on delivering better outcomes.”
He added that he had written to education minister Jeremy Miles MS “to ask that he reconsider this position, target the support to where it is needed, and instead focus those funds on increased staffing and resources to drive up standards across Wales.”
The Plaid-Labour deal unveiled on Monday ensured stable government after Labour fell one short a Senedd majority at May’s election.
It included a commitment to “extend free school meals to all primary school pupils, over the lifetime of this agreement, as a further step to reaching our shared ambition that no child should go hungry”.
“We agree that universal free school meals will be a transformational intervention in terms of child hunger and child poverty, which will support educational attainment and child nutrition and local food production and distribution, benefiting local economies,” the agreement says.
The deal is due to last another three years – which is expected to be when First Minister Mark Drakeford will transfer the reins to a successor.
Plaid Cymru had pledged to give free school meals to every child in primary school in its Senedd manifesto.
Teaching union NAHT Cymru has however raised questions about the policy, saying that a “universal provision” may not be the solution to the issue.
“NAHT Cymru fully supports the ambition of the Welsh Government to eradicate child hunger,” Laura Doel, director of the teaching union NAHT Cymru, said.
“Our members know only too well the impact poverty has on our learners from a health and educational perspective.”
“We would like to see the evidence that suggests such a universal provision is the solution to the issue of some children not qualifying for FSM due to an outdated criteria formula, the modelling on how much this is going to cost and any analysis that shows that giving every child a free school meal provides an educational benefit as opposed to fixing the problems in a broken system and putting the extra funding into frontline teaching and learning.”