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Teachers' Meals

Volume 932: debated on Tuesday 17 May 1977

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11.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps she is considering to reduce the £23 million cost of subsidising teachers' meals in schools.

Teachers exercising supervision during the midday break perform a valuable service and it would be wrong to consider in isolation the cost of subsidising their meals. The consultative document sent to local authority and teacher associations, among others, invited suggestions and comments by the end of May on how economies in the school meals service could best be made. It is our intention to offer guidance to local education authorities in the light of the response to this document, probably towards the end of the summer.

I welcome the prospect of guidance, which will save an enormous amount of money which is so desperately wanted for other parts of the education system. However, could not the Minister give this a bit of a heave, because every week that goes by more and more money is wasted down this particular gullet? Is she aware that this point has been raised with me not only by those who wish to see greater expenditure in other parts of the education system but by others, including teachers, who think that this is unnecessary benevolence on their part?

I know that there are those who contest the need for the school meals service still to exist. I do not agree with them. If the cost of providing school meals, which I think are necessary, were transferred from our budget elsewhere—

If teachers are performing duties, they have a right under the 1968 agreement to receive a meal. We do not question that right. However, we like to be assured that the agreement is being kept in the spirit as well as in the letter.

Does my hon. Friend agree that school meals are an important social service and that they are increasingly regarded by many educationists as not being in the sphere of education at all, there being an attempt to withdraw them from education and make them a real social service? Will she take note that many people are deeply worried about the future increased charges for school meals, which could prevent many children from having a meal at midday?

I am aware of the suggestion that the school meals budget should be transferred to a a different Department. I do not think that that would automatically lead to an increase in the money available generally for education. Like my hon. Friend I regret that we have been forced to raise the price of the meal, but it is still heavily subsidised.

If the money is to be allocated to anyone, would it not be better if it were allocated to the parents, who would then be able to decide whether to feed their children at breakfast, at teatime and during the holidays rather than having school meals during term time?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not taken the point on board—namely, that school meals are provided on school premises to allow children to be fed while they are at school. Merely to give money to the parents is not a way round that problem.

Will the hon. Lady bear in mind that, although these meals are technically free to teachers, the teachers receive them in return for supervising the children's breaks? If the teachers withdrew their services in this respect we should be involved in heavy additional expenses or we should have to abandon the school meals service.