Free school breakfasts – Conservative manifesto pledge ‘undercosted’ – expert comment

The Conservatives have pledged if elected they would introduce an offer of a free school breakfast for every child in every year of primary school. They estimate this will cost £60 million. 

Education Datalab have looked at this figure and found that it looks ‘very optimistic.’

Speaking at an EMC press briefing on the various education pledges from each of the main parties, Rebecca Allen, Director of Education Datalab said:

“We think they are undercosting free breakfasts in primary schools by say something like a five-fold factor. They say its going to cost £60 million but we think its going to cost something over £200-£400 million.

Its 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.

We think they are basing their figures on the ‘Magic Breakfast’ evaluation done by the Education Endowment Foundation and the take up on that was 23%. Its hard to envisage in a permanent world of this being policy what it will be.

If breakfast clubs in schools act as a proper childcare substitute, we would presume in the long run parents would switch from their existing provision of childminders and commercial providers into free breakfast clubs. Therefore we feel take up would be substantially more than 23%.

The problem is in the original ‘Magic Breakfast‘ evaluation they simply didn’t cost it correctly. The assumption we make are that you need to have at least a 15:1 staffing ratio at £15 per hour including setting and clearing up. We simply don’t have excess staff floating around (schools) in the way we did have three years ago.

We are hearing back from primary school heads that they are concerned about the very act of just finding staff.”

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