HC Deb 10 June 1980 vol 986 cc289-92
12. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he now has the figures for spring 1980 of the numbers of pupils in secondary schools which (a) have free school lunches, (b) pay for school lunches, and (c) bring packed lunches ; and if he will publish them in theOfficial Report.

Mr. Macfarlane

This information is not available. The last census of school meals was held in October 1979, details of which are in the Library.

Mr. Roberts

Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that in the aftermath of the Education Act, we shall have, in school meals, a cycle of rising prices and falling numbers? In those circumstances, will he ensure that all parents are aware of free meal entitlement? Will he also look at the important problem of the anonymity, in the school cafeteria system, of the child who receives free school meals?

Mr. Macfarlane

Local education authorities must make every effort to ensure that pupils and parents are aware of entitlement to free school meals. We dealt with that in the Education Act 1980. We also enabled local education authorities to be free to adopt a higher level of entitlement to free school meals as part of that assessment. I believe that the anonymity of youngsters receiving free school meals is well understood by head teachers, and I endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said. It is of paramount importance that that aspect is observed.

Mr. Gummer

What investigation has been carried out into the cost of providing school meals? Is my hon. Friend aware that in my constituency the un-subsidised school meal at a private school costs the same as the subsidised school meal in the public education system? At present, we are spending a great deal more money on the administration of the school meals service than we should be spending.

Mr. Macfarlane

The cost of administration of the school meals service has always been excessive. My hon. Friend has provided some interesting information on the comparison of costs between the private sector and the maintained sector, and I am grateful to him. However, it is far too soon for the House to assess the effects of the local authorities policies' on the school meals service. The Department is aware of the fall-off which has occurred this summer in pupils taking advantage of the traditional school meal, but that is inevitable, and it happens during the corresponding period each summer. The Department is in touch with local authorities, and it is monitoring the causes and developments of the trend.

Mr. Hardy

Will the Under-Secretary ensure that a survey is carried out this autumn which considers not merely the number of pupils taking advantage of them and the price of school meals but the food value and the cost of those school meals? Is he aware that in Gloucestershire the charge for a school meal is 45p. and that the meal consists of food worth only 19p.? Should the Department of Education and Science sit idly by and watch that kind of profiteering?

Mr. Macfarlane

We believe that the legislation that was passed earlier this year will reduce those statistics. I cannot give the assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks about a future survey. I shall take note of what he has said, and I shall discuss with my officials whether it is necessary. The difficulty in carrying out any census is in trying to achieve realistic figures and ensuring that all the conditions for that census are effective.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

While the Minister is doing that, will he try to find out the views of parents whose children receive free school meals? Will he find out whether they would prefer to have the money, so that they can feed their children more cheaply and keep the extra money, or are we supposed to believe that poor people are not as interested in feeding their children properly as those who are better off?

Mr. Macfarlane

I understand my hon. Friend's point, but I cannot give any assurance to the House on the first part of his question. It is up to local authorities to monitor all those conditions to which my hon. Friend has referred.

15. Mr Foster

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has had from the National Association of Head Teachers regarding the school meals service.

Mr. Mark Carlisle

Representations have been received about midday supervision and, during the passage of the Education Bill, about the duty placed on authorities to provide facilities for pupils who bring their own food to school, and about the omission of certain provisions of the former statutory regulations.

Mr. Foster

Are not the head teachers saying that the school meals service is bordering on chaos because of inadequate supervision, and that this Government's legislation and cuts have made matters immeasurably worse?

Mr. Carlisle

I do not accept that. I accept that head teachers are worried about midday supervision. They have been worried about that for some time and their worries are certainly not related to the Government's proposals on school meals.