Education Minister updates the Senedd on free school meals roll-out

JEREMY Miles MS, Minister for Education and Welsh Language has given an update in the Senedd on free school meals provision.

The Minister said:

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our local authority colleagues, as well as schools across Wales, for working with us to achieve this first milestone. It has taken significant partnership working and a team Wales approach,  which is already benefiting thousands of pupils and immediately putting money back into their families’ pockets.

We’ve worked at pace to develop an evidence-based initial unit rate per meal, which has allowed us to issue funding allocations to local authorities to begin delivery of universal provision. I have agreed that a review of the unit rate should be carried out using data on both fixed and variable costs provided by local authorities in order to develop a deeper understanding of real costs and, possibly, refine the unit rate for future years. That review is starting now.

We’ve also worked to ensure that our own policies, programmes of work and funding streams, which rely on traditional free school meal eligibility as an indicator, continue to work effectively. Over the summer, a national campaign has begun to promote free school meals, to encourage registration of pupils and, crucially, to make families aware of the additional wider support that we are making available to help them through the cost-of-living rises.

The vast majority of local authorities have confirmed that they are able to deliver to years 1 and 2, as well as reception, by April 2023. Eight are already delivering to all of those year groups. A small number of authorities are yet to commit to that date, and we are working with them to overcome infrastructure challenges and to secure a firm commitment. We will then publish roll-out plans across all local authorities for the first year of delivery. From September 2023, we will extend free school meals to all other primary school years. We don’t want to hold anyone back, and I look forward to updating.

We don’t want to hold anyone back, and I look forward to updating Members on our future roll-out plans.

Equity, wellbeing, and progression are at the heart of our strategic approach. Expanding our offer to all primary school children helps tackle the stigma that still is sometimes unfortunately associated with targeted support. It helps families who previously weren’t eligible for free school meals but still struggle to make ends meet, and it levels the playing field for all primary children to sit together and enjoy the same meal, promoting their right to food and to education.

A nutritious school meal for all primary pupils is just the start. We are setting the scene to change the way we eat in Wales, transforming school food culture and changing consumption habits. By creating an opportunity for all primary children to share and enjoy a meal together, we hope to reap the benefits of our investment in pupils’ learning, in their social skills and in their longer term health.

We know that our universal approach here is warranted. And we also now turn our focus to how we better use our levers to drive public procurement to support local food production and distribution, to benefit local economies and to better connect learners with the origins of the food that they eat. Our conditions of grant funding to local authorities for delivery of universal provision and our significant investment is providing a catalyst for this work to begin in earnest.

Finally, Dirprwy Lywydd, I wanted to update Members on our free school meal provision during school holiday periods. We should not forget that Wales has led the way in the UK throughout the pandemic in our delivery of food provision to those eligible for free school meals during school holiday periods. This has been supported by an investment of over £100 million to date. Our school holiday free school meal provision was due to finish at the end of the summer holidays this year. But working with our co-operation agreement partners, Plaid Cymru, in light of the increasing cost of living and the pressure this is already putting on family budgets, today I am pleased to confirm that together we have now been able to allocate funding to extend holiday food provision for pupils traditionally eligible for a free school meal until the end of the February half term next year. This means a further investment of £11 million to support some of our most disadvantaged learners.”

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