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[英伦广角] 2015-09-26 英国拟不再为幼龄学生提供免费午餐

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From reception to year two, all children now get free hot school meals, saving their parents 400 pounds a child per year. But Sky News understands the scheme could fall under the chancellor’s in November spending review. And head teachers, including the one here in St. Bede Bolton want an assurance that won’t happen.

“So all kinds of ways, physically, a child is better off and able to concentrate than much more. They are more comfortable in the afternoon, they are more settled. I think we got the system running. We got it up running and it’s running well. Children are benefiting. Please don't take it away from them.”

The education budget is around 54 billion pounds. 40 billion is protected which covers poor pupils’ spending in primary and secondary schools. 14 billion isn’t protected. That includes early years teacher training, colleges and free school meals. The Department has proposed options of 25% and 40% cuts to these areas.

“But the question really is one of value for money, and whether it’s the best use of 800 million pounds a year to pay for free school meals for all children, regardless of their parental wealth? And I’m not convinced that however nice it is, it’s especially X to the X side."

Politically, free school meal is seen as a Liberal-Democrat policy, something from the coalition days. They could perhaps be easily discarded by the Conservatives as a Nick Clegg folly, a bit of Lib-Dem baggage to get rid of. Where about for this-- the Conservative manifesto of 2015 which pledges to keep the program?

“All the evidence suggests that children who have a school meal everyday are two months further on their studies and those don't. See, it’s damaging to children. It's an insult to our schools. And I guess it's a demonstration of what the Liberal-Democrats did achieve when we are in power. These are things you lose when we are not.”

Celebrity chef X calls to keep the program. Raymond Blanc told the Sky News: “As a result of the introduction of universal infant free school meals, millions of children – who just a year ago eating sugary, processed packed lunches -- are now eating a proper nutritious meal. It would be short-sighted and catastrophic to undo that,” and Jamie Oliver currently advising the government on child obesity said: “The vast majority of packed lunches get nowhere near the nutritional standards set for school meals. It would be a disaster if it were to be taken away.”

John Vincent owner of Leon restaurant was commissioned by the last coalition government to come up with the program, and he’s also concerned.

“Before free school meals, you had the less well of children eating school dinners. The X are economic. You had the better of children eating a sugary packed lunches. And then you had the working poor in the middle who weren't eligible for free school meals. Who weren't spending very much on school dinners and would have bad quality packed lunches. So suddenly all three troupes benefit. By eating together everybody benefits.”

But even with millions spent on upgrading school kitchens, the scheme might now be shelved in the chancellor’s budget furnace.

Jason Farrel, Sky News.
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