Labour plans free breakfasts for pupils as it vows to ‘poverty proof’ schools

By Sam Blewett and Elizabeth Arnold, PA Political Staff

Free healthy breakfasts would be served to all primary school children under a Labour proposal to “poverty proof” England’s schools and reduce the number going hungry.

It is part of Labour’s plans to improve education, which also include recruiting 20,000 more teachers, capping primary class sizes at 30 and investing £7 billion in school building repairs.

The free breakfast programme would also be piloted in secondary schools in an attempt to boost children’s education, if Jeremy Corbyn’s party wins the December 12 election.

All secondary school children whose families receive Universal Credit would get free school meals, while the cost of uniforms would be capped and grants to help families afford them would be returned.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner announced the plans to “poverty proof” schools on Thursday.

Citing Resolution Foundation research, she said: “Rising child poverty under the Tories is an absolute scandal and it is a disgrace that their plans will push it to a 60-year high if they win this election.

“Labour will tackle child poverty while driving up standards in schools by providing extra support to the children who need it most.”

The party pledged to recruit nearly 20,000 more teachers, while “ensuring around 25,000 currently unqualified staff” are fully trained during Labour’s first term.

Ms Rayner said Labour would also “close the gap in funding” for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, providing extra cash to “reverse deficits” in the high-needs budget.

She added the party would “fully reverse cuts” to the pupil premium, and boost spending on it above inflation to support the most disadvantaged pupils.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) economic think tank has previously said that Labour’s proposals would mean a 15% (14.6%) real-terms increase in per pupil funding over the next three years.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said school budgets “are at breaking point”.

He added: “Labour’s additional £7 billion to tackle repairs is very welcome and is equivalent to National Audit Office’s estimate of what it would cost to return all school buildings to satisfactory or better condition.

“However on recruitment, Labour are well short of the 47,000 secondary teachers and 8,000 primary teachers that are needed by 2024 in order to keep pace with growing pupil numbers.”

Conservative schools minister Nick Gibb defended the Tories’ track-record on schools, and added: “Just this week, the Pisa assessment (Programme for International Student Assessment) has shown England’s schools have risen up international league tables under the Conservatives.

“Sadly in Labour-run Wales, schools ranked worst in the UK and, under the SNP, Scotland recorded its worst-ever performance in reading and maths.

“Conservative education reforms are improving standards in our schools, meaning children can get a better start in life.

“These results show starkly what a Corbyn-Sturgeon alliance would do to our schools and children’s prospects.”

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Layla Moran said: “While Labour have attempted to copy the Liberal Democrat policy to employ 20,000 more teachers, they have no hope of meeting this target.

“With thousands of EU teachers coming to work in schools each year, Labour cannot square these promises with delivering Brexit.”

Mr Corbyn began a round of school visits to promote the announcement at Fulbridge Academy in the marginal constituency Peterborough.

Mr Corbyn arrived half an hour behind schedule and noted the delay to staff, adding: “We are a bit late do we get…”

“Detention,” one offered.

Jeremy Corbyn holds a question and answer session (Joe Giddens/PA)

But Mr Corbyn presented the “leaves on the line” excuse for the late running of his train.

Principal Ben Erskine took Mr Corbyn on a tour through the school’s corridors, themed on subjects such as war, ancient Egypt and Harry Potter.

After chatting individually with children, Mr Corbyn held an impromptu pupil press conference, where he was questioned about the climate crisis and his plans if he becomes prime minister.

“I want to make it a fairer country, one with real opportunities for all young people to go to schools as good as this one,” he told them.

“Because you are our future – no pressure.”

One particularly inquisitive girl told him the benefits of buses in reducing the carbon footprint and cases of asthma.

“Seventy cars less on the road means the bus gets around quicker – I agree with that,” he said.