Just one council out of 32 will deliver on free meals pledge
JUST one council in Scotland will deliver the Scottish Government pledge to introduce free school meals for P1-3 pupils in August.
Only West Dunbartonshire out of 32 local authorities will achieve the election manifesto promise made by the SNP in 2007.
Another ten local authorities have no plans to expand free school meals at all, according to a survey by the Times Educational Supplement Scotland.
The remainder have either not decided or have taken a range of options such as providing breakfast, or free meals only to P1.
Child poverty campaigners described the failure of the pledge as a "bitter blow to tens of thousands of families across Scotland".
Many councils cited the government's offer to concentrate on reducing class sizes instead of free school meals. When he took over as education secretary, Michael Russell said councils could target deprived areas for free meals rather than implement the policy wholesale.
The move was a bid to rescue the pledge to reduce class sizes to 18 in the first three years of primary, which is also failing.
Some councils say they will not expand free meals as they already meet the government's target of reaching children in the 20 per cent most deprived communities. Edinburgh and Glasgow are among those who say they have already met this requirement and so will not expand the scheme to more children.
John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said: "Ensuring children have one healthy meal in the middle of the day can play a vital role in their health and education, and it can free up resources for families in difficult circumstances."
Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, Fife, Highland, Midlothian, North Lanarkshire and Orkney are also not making any changes to their provision, saying the policy is unaffordable.
A spokeswoman for Midlothian said: "Owing to limited availability of funds, it has been decided that eligibility for free school meals will not be extended beyond what is required under statute."
Councils across Scotland have been making major cuts to budgets to slash spending – and education, as the largest part of most local authority budgets, is taking the brunt.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "There is clear agreement between the Scottish Government and Cosla (which represents councils] that by August 2010 councils will provide a nutritious free meal to all P1-P3 pupils in the schools within the 20 per cent of the most deprived communities of each council area."
But he also said local authorities could use a different target, other than deprivation, to expand the scheme.
He added: "Councils are also free, if they wish, to implement an alternative targeting scheme of equal extent. Joint discussions will take place with every council to establish how to achieve this agreed commitment in a realistic and sustainable way."
What's cooking and what's on the back-burner for primary school pupils across Scotland
Aberdeen – breakfast for all pupils in the ten primary schools in serving the most deprived areas.
Aberdeenshire – no extension of free meals planned.
Angus – plans yet undecided.
Argyll and Bute – no extension.
Clackmannanshire – lunch for P1-3 pupils in five or six schools serving the most deprived areas.
Dumfries and Galloway - lunch for all P1 pupils.
Dundee – breakfast clubs to be extended pupils in all primaries.
East Ayrshire – lunch for all P1s.
East Dunbartonshire – lunch for P1-3 pupils in the 11 primaries serving the most deprived areas.
East Lothian – lunch for P1-3 pupils in five primary schools in Prestonpans and Tranent.
East Renfrewshire – breakfast for all P1-3 pupils in the five schools serving the most deprived areas.
Edinburgh – no extension.
Falkirk – undecided.
Fife – no extension planned.
Glasgow – no extension
Highland – no extension
Inverclyde – breakfast for all pupils in seven schools serving areas with high deprivation.
Midlothian – no extension.
Moray – lunch for P1-3 pupils in five primaries serving the most deprived areas.
North Ayrshire – breakfast clubs in specific school for all pupils.
North Lanarkshire – no extension planned.
Orkney – no extension.
Perth and Kinross – breakfast for P1-3 pupils in 16 most deprived areas.
Renfrewshire – lunch for P1-3 in 16 primaries in most deprived areas.
Scottish Borders – lunch for P1-3 pupils in 13 primaries in most deprived areas.
Shetland – no extension.
South Ayrshire – undecided.
South Lanarkshire – undecided.
Stirling – lunch for P1s in eight primaries in most deprived areas.
West Dunbartonshire – lunch for all P1-3 children.
West Lothian – breakfast for P1-3 children in 24 schools in most deprived areas.
Western Isles – lunch for P1 in August, then P2 the following year and P3 the next.
Swedish school model divisive, expensive and unfair – union
SWEDEN's free school movement, recently examined by education secretary Michael Russell on a fact-finding trip to Scandinavia, has increased segregation, encouraged secrecy between schools and has been extremely expensive, according to a Swedish teaching union official.
Ann-Christin Larsson, senior officer with the Lrarfrbundet union, said Scotland should avoid repeating Sweden's mistakes.
She said: "It was decided when independent schools (free schools] were created there should be more competition between schools, they would create more pedagogical renewal and be more cost-effective.
"But the new schools have not created any new pedagogical ideas – when schools compete they tend to be more quiet with their ideas than before.
"The new schools have not been more cost effective – there have been huge planning problems so it becomes very costly.
"Independent schools have created more segregation. Pupils attending these schools are from better off, more educated families. It's because they are more informed and they know the system better.
"At the moment, public schools have not really been affected. But most pupils entering upper secondary level want to go to schools in the centre of the city and this is where most of the independent schools are. So while public schools in city centres will attract pupils those in the suburbs could suffer."
Ms Larsson's union has been campaigning for fairer regulation of the Swedish school system for a number of years.
The system, backed by the Conservatives in England allows anyone to set up an independent school with state funding. Such schools are allowed to make a profit and many are run by for-profit private companies.
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