School food campaigners have come out fighting following claims that free school meals for infants could be scrapped. Reports in national newspapers have suggested the Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) scheme is costing the government too much money and not seeing enough success. But Myles Bremner, director of the School Food Plan, said the scheme was proving a huge success with take-up amongst 5-7 year olds in England currently at 85.5%, which equates to 1.6million children.

He said: “The vast majority of headteachers believe in the policy. Whilst some have challenged the funding of it and some have faced issues with pupil premium, they recognise the positive impact a nutritious school lunch is having on pupils’ health, wellbeing and attitude to learning. The policy is also good for the local economy as it creates more jobs, and promotes sourcing of local food.”

The scheme was introduced under the coalition and the Conservative party committed to the continuation of UIFSM in its manifesto ahead of the general election. Mr Bremner also reminded people of David Cameron’s commitment to tackle child obesity.

The Prime Minister said: “When you look at the most disturbing figures it’s the fact that 10% of children go into primary school obese, but 20% are coming out of primary school obese. There’s no doubt that the next phase of improving the health of the nation, School food campaigners have come out fighting following claims that free school meals for infants could be scrapped. preventive health and better health is going to be absolutely key but I think the real focus should be how we tackle 10% to 20% problem in primary schools. So it’s a combination of diet, exercise and how we talk to children and parents about this vital issue.”

A recent School Food Plan commissioned survey, which is yet to be published, found that 86% of parents intend for their child to continue having school meals when they move into Key Stage two. The Department for Education has also issued a statement in response to the claims. A spokesperson said: “We believe that every child, regardless of their background, should have the same opportunities. That is at the heart of what we are doing with school food – no child should be hindered because they are not eating a nutritious meal at lunchtime. We have provided significant financial support to schools to help them deliver universal infant free school meals. We have come a long way and the new School Food Standards mean pupils of all ages are eating good food that sows the seeds for healthy eating for life.”

The Government has spent £1billion over the first two years of the programme to pay for the costs of providing the meals, which was first introduced in September 2014.

• One year on from the launch of free school meals for all infants in England, 95% of parents of children taking up the offer are recognising the benefits for their child.

• Almost one quarter (23%) of parents with children eating a free infant meal say the main benefit to their child is the greater variety of food they will now eat, according to a new survey commissioned by the School Food Plan and carried out by Opinium Research.

• The same proportion (23%) say they most value their child eating a proper meal at lunchtime, whilst almost one fifth (19%) say their child has enjoyed trying new foods. The opportunity to eat together and socialise with friends was identified as the most important aspect by 15% of parents.