Plans to provide every primary school pupil with a free breakfast, could add up to three times more than the £60 million budget which has been earmarked to pay for the new initiative, according to academics.
Experts who have looked at the figures, have argued that the scheme would in fact cost between £180 million and £400 million.
Researchers at Education Data Lab say the plans, which are outlined in the Conservative Manifesto, have been calculated on the basis that food expenses will be 25 pence per pupil and importantly the calculation does not include staff costs.
The plans would see free lunches for infant school children in England, scrapped in favour of a universal offer of a free breakfast for all primary school children.
Dr Rebecca Allen who led the analysis has found that the costings in the manifesto are based on a particular charitable scheme, called Magic Breakfast.
This evaluation, by the Education Endowment Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (EEF/IFS), did not, however, include the cost of staffing the breakfast club. Dr Allen said it also did not take into account that Magic Breakfast relied on donated food.
Speaking at an Education Media Centre press briefing, Dr Allen said: “They say it’s going to cost £60 million but we think it’s going to cost something over £200 million to £400 million.
“It’s a problem because they wanted to scrap universal free school meals for infants and take that and put it back into the general slug of the education budget.
“We think that they can’t manage to do that if they are going to deliver free school breakfasts.”
She added that if the free breakfast clubs acted as a proper child care substitute, then many parents would switch from their existing childminders and providers into the free clubs.
Dean Horridge, chief executive of Fit For Sport, which runs breakfast clubs in schools, said the estimate for free breakfasts was “unrealistic”.
He added: “The Fit For Sport average charge for our breakfast club is £4.20 per child per day but the costs well exceed that of the Conservatives’ projected 25p per child per day.
“We strive to ensure that children are provided with a nutritious and cost-effective start to the day.
“That’s why we provide the optimum balanced combination of nutrients to help children perform in the classroom but at 25p per day we do not feel that this could be replicated.”
Luke Morgan, a partner with Palmers, who specialises in debt advice for the education sector, said: “Schools are already struggling to balance their books. If, as the researchers suggest, the sums do not add up for the provision of free breakfasts, this initiative could put enormous strain on the finances of primary schools at a time when, arguably, they can least afford it.”
Luke added: “If cash flow becomes an issue, it is crucial to get advice at an early stage and seeking advice from a legal professional who has experience of both commercial debt recovery and the education sector is particularly important.”
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