Will you continue investment in school meals beyond March 2011, when the transitional funding is scheduled to cease? If not, how will you respond if schools are forced to withdraw lunch services because of cost issues?
Jeremy Hunt, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Conservative) Providing free school meals to disadvantaged pupils is important and we have no plans to stop this scheme.
Vernon Coaker, Schools Minister, Labour Our funding settlement for schools is tighter than in previous years, but it will mean an average annual increase per pupil of 2.1% in the next two years. In contrast, the Tories are proposing to cut funding for schools as they have chosen not to protect this area of spending.
The funding system has given schools stability but we also need to make sure that it is responsive to the very different needs of schools across the country. That is why we are currently consulting on how we can improve it, with a view to ensuring money is distributed fairly and used effectively.
One of our proposals is that the school lunch grant is moved into the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG), giving schools more flexibility over how they spend their money and bringing that grant into line with most other school-specific grants.
David Laws, Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Liberal Democrats We are committed to ensuring that proper support is made available to assist schools in providing high-quality school food at affordable prices, while amending the Government's new nutrient-based standards to ensure that they are realistic and achievable. That is why education is a key priority in the Liberal Democrat manifesto.
We would provide an additional £2.5b to schools in the form of a pupil premium targeted at schools taking on children who need more help, to be spent however the school sees fit.
Do you have any plans to expand the free school meals pilot further? If not, will the pilots continue and what is their point?
JH (Conservative) It's important that we are able to assess the impact of free school meal expansion. So we would continue the pilot and examine the evidence in order to establish how effective further expansion would be.
VC (Labour) We already have free school meal pilots running in three local authorities. Durham and Newham are trialling universal free school meals for all primary children and Wolverhampton has been testing out extended eligibility for a wider group of families on low incomes. The early results are really encouraging: teachers, parents and children are all extremely positive and the benefits for children's health and well-being, and for their exam results, are starting to come through. Building on this early success, we have announced five further universal free school meal pilots for primary children which will start in September.
DL (Liberal Democrats) Anything that assists in improving school meals take-up should be looked at, but the Government is trying to con people that it intends to introduce free meals in all schools. Ministers know they can't remotely afford the cost of rolling this out in all schools, nor do they have any intention of doing so. It looks like a cynical pre-election stunt rather than a policy that will ever see the light of day in most schools.