THE NUMBER of children attending school breakfast clubs has fallen by more than 300 since a charge was introduced by Monmouthshire council.

A £1 charge for the childcare element of the hour-long free school breakfast was introduced by the council in September, 2018.

The breakfast remains free, but the half-hour childcare session is not, meaning schools charge £1 for each child who attends after breakfast.

Senior councillors say the charge is lower than compared to other local authorities, but critics say it places “an extra burden” on families that is unnecessary.

New figures show a drop in the number of children attending school breakfast clubs across all except one of Monmouthshire’s primary schools.

From September to March in 2017/18, 1,480 pupils attended free breakfasts in the county.

But this fell to 1,176 in the same period in 2018/19 – a reduction of 304.

The biggest fall in numbers came at Undy Primary School, with 35 fewer children attending free school breakfasts.

Numbers at Kymin View fell by 32, while The Dell primary saw a drop of 24.

Gilwern Primary was the only school out of 27 where numbers did not fall, with an increase of 11 pupils attending.

Councillor Dimitri Batrouni, leader of the council’s Labour group which opposed the charge, said the party had warned the policy would “put parents off using the service, particularly those struggling to make ends meet.”

“It is a weekly, monthly cost that places an extra burden on families in Monmouthshire that is unnecessary,” he said.

But councillor Richard John, cabinet member for Children, Young People and MonLife, said the council had to make some “difficult decisions” to protect frontline services due to receiving “the lowest amount of funding from the Welsh Government.”

He said: “A £1 per day charge for breakfast club is below the cost charged in other councils and is well below the actual cost or the commercial rate for half an hour’s childcare.

“Being able to drop your child off at school at 8am, for just £1, means many working parents are able to get to their place of work earlier.

“We are protecting the vulnerable by ensuring that any child eligible for free school meals is able to attend breakfast club for free and we have evidence that children from more deprived background are continuing to attend.

“Breakfast club is an optional service and we always expected a reduction in attendance when we introduced a charge for something which was previously ‘free’.

“Except nothing is ‘free’ in life. The £1 charge from parents is now largely covering the staffing costs of breakfast clubs, which are no longer being subsidised by council tax payers.”