Free school meals scheme will start on time, says minister

School meal Supporters say the scheme will save parents hundreds of pounds a year

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The government's plans to give free meals to all infant school pupils in England will happen on time, education minister David Laws has said.

He told BBC 5 Live's Pienaar's Politics that the September start date was "absolutely fine" and that most teachers were "incredibly supportive".

Last week, senior Conservative MP Graham Stuart said schools would struggle and more planning was needed.

Mr Laws, a Liberal Democrat, said free meals would have a "positive" effect.

All Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 children in state-funded schools in England will be entitled to free lunches under the scheme, which supporters say will save parents about £400 a year per child.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg launched the plan at last autumn's Liberal Democrat conference.

'Challenge'

Since then, several head teachers have complained that the timescale for implementation is unrealistic.

Last week, Mr Stuart, chairman of the Commons education committee, said schools struggling to comply - such as those lacking adequate kitchen capacity - should get more "discretion" over start dates.

But the government says £150m is going to schools to expand their kitchens and dining facilities where needed.

Mr Laws told Pienaar's Politics: "We believe that the timetable is absolutely fine. When we had pilots a few years ago in different parts of the country, those areas actually had less time than we have given to implement this across the country."

He added: "I do understand that for many head teachers who have to implement this, it's an implementation challenge. So it's not surprising that it's some of those individuals who are expressing concerns about the things they've got to do over the next few months."

He called free meals "a hugely positive thing", adding that the government had "found a huge amount of money at a time of austerity to do this because we think it's very valuable in a multiplicity of different ways".

Mr Laws also said: "Most teachers and most of the teacher unions are incredibly positive about this and I believe they can implement it on time."

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