Labour plan to give all primary school children free breakfasts - but shadow schools minister doesn't know how many

10 June 2024, 08:24

Watch Again: Nick Ferrari is joined by Shadow Schools Minister Catherine McKinnell | 10/06/24

By Kit Heren

Labour have said that they will turn empty classrooms into 3,300 nurseries and give all primary schoolchildren free breakfasts, as part of a plan to turn childcare around.

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But Labour's shadow schools minister Catherine McKinnell appeared not to know how many breakfasts this would entail on Monday morning.

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Ms McKinnell said that around one in seven primary school children currently take part in 'breakfast clubs'. She added that Labour would fund the expansion by "clamping down on tax dodgers".

But asked how many breakfasts would be provided under the Labour plan, Ms McKinnell said: "I don't have that figure to hand," although she maintained the figure had been costed by her party.

Ms McKinnell said the aim of the scheme was to improve school attendance and attainment, and that it would save parents around £400 per year.

Elizabeth, year 4 student from Hollydale Primary School in London attends their breakfast club
Elizabeth, year 4 student from Hollydale Primary School in London attends their breakfast club. Picture: Alamy

"This would provide that extra opportunity for children to be in the school environment, and to have that softer start to the day, and also get children in on time and ready to learn," she said.

"We think that every child deserves that best start in life," she added.

It comes on the same day that Labour announced its nursery expansion scheme, which it said would create 100,000 nursery places and cost about £40,000 per classroom. Sir Keir Starmer's party said this would be paid for by the plan to introduce VAT on private schools.

The number of children in nursery and primary school is set to fall in the next few years, freeing up space.

James O'Brien compares attitudes towards poverty and VAT on private school fees

Sir Keir said: "Childcare is critical infrastructure. It's vital for children's opportunities, and essential for a stable economy.

After 14 years of Conservative government, too many children are starting school already behind, and too many parents are being held back from fulfilling their career ambitions. This election is about change.

"Labour will roll up our sleeves and take the tough decisions needed to support parents' progression, improve kids' life chances and ultimately, drive growth.

"We will create the childcare places needed to turn the page, and rebuild Britain."

The announcement was met with a cautious welcome by commentators and industry experts.

Catherine McKinnell
Catherine McKinnell. Picture: Alamy

The Institute for Fiscal Studies' associate director Christine Farquharson said: "By far the biggest choice Labour has made on childcare was the decision to sign up to the hugely ambitious expansion of funded childcare entitlements that the current Government has introduced.

"By contrast, the plans announced today to pay for the conversion of 3,300 primary school classrooms (going spare because of falling pupil numbers) may nudge the market in a different direction - but certainly won't transform it.

"Targeting provision at childcare 'deserts' could help to expand access to childcare in under-served areas - but a sensible plan would take into account the likely local demand for childcare, not just the (lack of) supply."

People in the childcare and education industries said the plan was a good idea, but needed to be matched by a proper workforce strategy.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: Alamy

Sarah Ronan, director of the Early Education and Childcare Coalition, said: "Labour's commitment to increasing the number of places is the right one, however if you boost places you have to also boost staff numbers, so underpinning its plan for reform must be a new workforce strategy that will attract more people into the sector and see early years professionals receive the pay, conditions and respect they deserve."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said: "There is certainly a clear logic in using free space in primary schools to expand nursery provision.

"It is positive to see that Labour have made clear that schools that wish to do this will be able to access the necessary funding. Having the right space is one part of the picture, and it will be equally important that there is a strong focus on attracting more people into the early years workforce."

Conservative Treasury minister Laura Trott said: "HM Treasury officials have found Labour's policy costs four times more than Labour claims - that means new tax rises to pay for it.

"Not only have Labour admitted their schools' tax raid will mean "larger classes" in state schools which will damage children's futures, this unfunded policy is part of Labour's £38.5 billion black hole requiring £2,094 of tax rises on every working family."

Labour have denied they will implement £2,000 of additional taxes.

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