Free School Meals and Phonics

So every child in Reception, Year One and Year Two will get free school meals from next year. An announcement made by Nick Clegg to no doubt try and put a positive spin on a car crash of a Lib Dem conference where scenery has crashed on television and spin doctors accidentally emailed strategy directly to hostile journalists by mistake,

Still it’s been largely received in a positive manner with people such as CBeebies Dr Ranj tweeting support. But I have to say I’m far from convinced. Why?

Firstly the current system works fine. Children are not going hungry at lunchtime if they are disadvantaged because they already qualify for a free school meal. Those on the margins either side may have a problem in that some under may be too proud to claim and those just over may struggle to meet the cost. The thing is this will still be the case when they’re eight. A means test has been replaced with an age.

And people really shouldn’t be too proud to claim. In fact what they should do is register for the free meal even if they have no intention of using it. Why? Because this allows the school to claim extra funding (free meals being used as a measure of the poverty level of the school’s attendees) and boy is that funding needed. Especially when you consider the nonsense a lot of funding is going on of which more later.

So could the money be better spent? Undoubtedly yes. Firstly the principle is that a hot school lunch is more nutritious than a packed lunch. Well it only is if the school meal really is nutritious and the packed lunch junk. When I tweeted about this I got a reply with an example that someone had sent their child in with a kebab as a packed lunch. But this policy shift is only putting off the junk food lunch till they’re eight. Instead of educating parents on what makes a tasty AND nutritious packed lunch the responsibility is being passed from the parents to the schools. At the same time tax payers are now providing free food for little Tarquin and Matilda. Another £400 a year for mother to pour petrol in to the BMW X1 that she parks on the yellow zig zags when she drops them off.

The assumption that school meals are nutritious also only holds if they are tasty. Up to last year Boy’s school did not have it’s own kitchen. It was reheating meals (prepared on a very tight budget) from another school. This was not Jamie Oliver revolution. This was reheated food prepared on a shoe string budget. The result? Mostly he didn’t eat it and wanted a snack when he got in.

So if the middle classes don’t need free food (and they really don’t) how can we spend on children’s nutrition positively? By increasing breakfast clubs for the most at need. This excellent piece by Jay Rayner highlights why breakfast clubs are needed far better than I could and yet they are continuing to disappear due to funding cuts. So if my taxes have to go on schools taking responsibility instead of parents then how about we support organisations like Magic Breakfast instead of tut-tutting at the chocolate bars in the packed lunch boxes of kids who can afford to be fed by their parents?

In fact I think the idea is a load of vap. Who really puts snemp in their kid’s lunchbox these days?

No I haven’t gone mental. These are actual words used in phonics tests according to this government document. So they must be real words? Right? Wrong.

While Education policy is now proposing re-routing funds to feed kids from rich families it is also spending money on teaching your kids to read nonsense words.

At the end of last year the Boy had his phonics test. Boy reads very well. In fact he’s registered gifted and talented for it and ploughs through chapter books before using the words he’s picked up to create stories. Yet he did less well than many of his classmates in this test. Had the test been using mixed methods to read actual words I can’t help thinking he and many others would have done a lot better.

But why are we testing 6 year olds anyway. I say 6 year olds – I mean Year One so some could still be 5. And there’s another point. At this stage the development of a 6 year old may be very different to that of a 5 year old. Yet the school is marked solely on the ability for very different children to be prepared for a uniform test.

In other words your kids are being taught nonsense words so the school can be rated by OFSTED and a mini housing bubble can be created around the good ones. Which is even more good news for BMW X1 drivers. Frankly it takes the steck.

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  1. #1 by Mummy Glitzer on September 18, 2013 - 8:24 am

    I don’t understand it, I really don’t!

    They take away universal CB which caused huge ructions and now hand out free school meals with the aim to expand to all children? Would that not work out just as, if not more, expensive in the long run?

    I understand those on the cusp may struggle to afford hot meals (which frankly most would prefer in the winter months anyway I guess) but I am not adverse to expanding the FSM policy, perhaps for those on CB or WTC instead of just CTC?

    Harry will be entitled when he starts at the nursery next week. We haven’t applied because we figure we have been able to feed him healthy, varied lunches for the last 3 years and also because on the days he will be there for lunch (Thurs and Fri) the 4-weekly menu is samey. Every Thursday is mince and tomato based and every Friday is Fish fingers.

    Say there is this “spare” money and NOTHING else will be cut to fund it, surely the money could be better spent as you say. Maybe better/more wrap around care, better resources in schools? I don’t know but just seems a waste to me.

    • #2 by slightlysuburbandad on September 18, 2013 - 9:18 am

      Some excellent points there. Thanks for commenting and good luck with H!

  2. #3 by aviets on September 18, 2013 - 10:51 am

    You make some very good points, and I realize the reality of school lunch hardly lives up to the ideal (ditto for the reality of many teaching fads). But I’m concerned by your statement, “People shouldn’t be too proud to claim. In fact they should…” I think making such assumptions about what another group of people should or shouldn’t do is condescending and is directly tied to classism. I say this from relevant perspectives: I’m a former elementary teacher, and I’ve had the experience of needing to apply for free/reduced lunch for the sake of financial survival – while living in an extremely affluent suburb where classism is rampant.
    -Amy at http://www.momgoeson.wordpress.com

    • #4 by slightlysuburbandad on September 18, 2013 - 11:02 am

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Our school has always encouraged every parent who is eligible to claim as they then get other funding which goes directly to the school. However it is in a working class area – not an affluent one.

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