Thursday, April 25, 2024
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Kathy Gyngell: Big Mother May will soon be putting our kids to bed


To have or not to have? Coco Pops versus pie and peas? Which better improves kids’ classroom performances? Celebrity hackette Rachel Johnson was absolutely sure lunches are best. A Tory spokesman with her on Any Questions on Saturday told her in all seriousness she was wrong – for they  (the IFS or some other such source of all statistical evidence)  had ‘proved’ that kids’ performance went up further with breakfast – and it was cheaper than lunch. Argumentum probatur!

John McDonnell, who seemed to be on the BBC all weekend, expressing either his virtue or his outrage at Mrs May generally (never mind that no Tory government before has stolen so many Labour clothes) and missing breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner, was in no position to have a view on this, though he did. His lack of food had him positively on charge. A great example of what denial can do.

I can’t remember who the fourth panelist was but what I do remember is that not one of these luminaries asked either of the following questions of Mrs May’s promise to replace free primary lunches with free breakfasts:

When did it become acceptable for parents not to give their children breakfast before they send them on their way to school; when did it stop being a matter of concern or of shame?

Why is a Conservative pushing for this universal State takeover for what surely should be considered to be a basic and fundamental family and parental responsibility?

Yes. We all know the official (equality, ‘fairness’) reason for free cornflakes. School breakfast ‘clubs’ were set up for ‘disadvantaged’ children whose parents wouldn’t/couldn’t give them a proper breakfast. Who can argue with that? The only trouble is that hasn’t necessarily worked and making the provision universal does not address that, or why.

For, surprise surprise, some of breakfast clubs’ most committed advocates have found that it wasn’t necessarily the poorest kids who took up this free offer. Why? Perhaps it’s because the reason they weren’t getting any breakfast at home was as much to do with parental chaos as with poverty – no one was getting up in time to get the kids up? Only recently there were stories of parents being reprimanded for still being in their pyjamas when they brought their kids to school. Even Gaby Hinsliff gets this is a bit of a problem.

Free breakfast is hardly going to encourage parents to be more responsible is it? Hardly creates a good model for their children? But how long does it take them to get their children dressed? how long to get breakfast on the table for them? Breakfast clubs relieve parents of that role modelling too.

Anyway, the result of the great breakfast experiment is that since 2013 over half British parents have been relieved of this  basic bothersome duty. Can the over half of British school kids  getting breakfast at school all be disadvantaged?

No, of course not.  But Mrs May appears in a thoughtless way to have decided officially to turn this ‘support’ for the needy into a universal entitlement. How that will help hopeless parents get organised I don’t know. It will just undermine one more part of the socialising essence of family life.

It makes a nonsense too of the original ‘scientific’ justification – the common sense (no science needed) that breakfast in a child’s tummy will ‘enhance both academic performance and behaviour’.

Rachel is right about ‘dinners’ being better but for the wrong reason. The chances are that the more ‘disadvantaged’ children of chaotic families will at least have made it to school by lunchtime or been chased up (if the school has a good absentee and truancy policy) so lunch is a surer fire way of getting food into them. And yes, every child does need lunch and school is where they have it by definition. Not just that – and here is my first agreement with Nick Clegg ever – the Jamie Oliver initiative does seem to have had a real impact with more schools with their own kitchens cooking hot meals on site. That has to be a good thing. Why would anyone in his or her right mind undermine that?

Nothing about this is common sense. This is another example of stupid red Toryism – a continuation of Gordon Brown’s appropriation by the State of children and of what should be family duties – removing children from the care and influence of their parents. Mrs May may not see it like that, but that is both the reality and the effect.

Instead of working out how to make families stronger and parents more responsible, she tells them they don’t have to worry – the State will do it for them.

What next? Is it only time before the State offer to give children their supper before they leave school and put them to bed too?

(Image: DFID)

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Kathy Gyngell
Kathy Gyngell
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @kathygyngelltcw on GETTR and is back on Twitter.

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