The government has dropped the controversial Conservative manifesto commitment to scrap free school meals for infants.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said the government would “retain the existing provision”, having listened “very carefully” to the views of parents.
“We have listened carefully to the sector’s views on the proposal to remove infant free school meals, and we have decided that it is right to retain the existing provision.
“Universal infant free school meals ensure that children receive a nutritious meal during the day, which saves hard-working families hundreds of pounds a year and boosts educational achievement, especially among children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.”
The Conservatives’ had proposed cancelling free lunches for all five, six and seven year olds in an attempt to save £650m a year as part of their general election manifesto. The money was to go towards increasing the overall schools budget by £4bn as well as providing all primary pupils with a free breakfast instead.
The Tory manifesto for last month’s general election said: “We do not believe that giving school lunches to all children free of charge for the first three years of primary school – regardless of the income of their parents – is a sensible use of public money.
“There is now good evidence that school breakfasts are at least as effective in helping children to make progress in school. So, under a new Conservative government, schools in England will offer a free school breakfast to every child in every year of primary school, while children from low-income families will continue to receive free school lunches.”
However, the Tories have abandoned a host of proposals since failing to win a majority, including plans to means-test winter fuel payments, end the triple lock guarantee on pension increases and to hold a vote on foxhunting.
Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said Gibb’s announcement was “a victory for all those who campaigned to retain free school meals for all infant children.
“It is hard to credit that a Conservative Government was seriously considering taking the food off young children’s plates.’