Back to School: Schools deliver on free infant lunches as some heads question flagship government policy

PUBLISHED: 08:17 05 September 2014 | UPDATED: 08:17 05 September 2014

All Norfolk schools have been able to deliver free school meals for infants. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

All Norfolk schools have been able to deliver free school meals for infants. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

All Norfolk schools have been able to provide free schools meals to infants, but a survey has revealed concerns about the cost, timetable and time taken to prepare for the flagship government policy.

School launches free school meals for all older children

The focus may be on free school meals for infants, but Nicholas Priory Junior in Great Yarmouth is introducing them for older pupils.

It saw take up of lunches increase from 200 to 250 after reducing the cost to £1 last year, and now hopes that making them free will see at least 300 of its 384 pupils take them.

The change in funded through some of the school’s pupil premium money, which is provided to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Chair of governors James Wright said: “We have already seen an improvement in attainment in the children having the lunches, and we hope we will continue to improve outcomes.”

He said the school’s in-house catering made the extra cost of the meals “relatively marginal”.

The initiative was announced by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg last September, and this week he said evidence showed a healthy hot meal at lunchtime was as, or more, effective than many previous literacy and numeracy initiatives.

However, the policy has been dogged by claims it was ill-thought out and rushed.

Norse, the company which has been helping schools meet the demand for a forecast extra 40,000 meals a day in Norfolk, said it had ordered 95 fridges, 92 ovens, 259 sets of cutlery and 234 sets of new plates and bowls.

Suffolk County Council reported that all primary schools in the county were prepared.

Simone Goddard, head at Pulham Primary School, said: “I think it is a good thing for some families.

“We have some families who find it hard to pay for school meals, but giving blanket free school meals to every child whether or not their parents can afford it is not a good use of money and I think it should be means tested.”

Paul Madsen, headteacher of Thomas Bullock Primary in Shipdham, said it had not caused problems for its kitchen and hot meal provision, and added it was a good idea to give the youngest children a free hot meal.

“It has been very easy for us to implement and we have not had to make any changes to our kitchen,” he said.

Beverley Barrett, headteacher of Greyfriars Primary School in King’s Lynn, said: “Fortunately we have a very large dining area and good kitchen already in place so we are ready for a smooth transition.

“It has taken up quite lot of organisation over the last year to accommodate free school meals, it has taken a lot of work to see how we are going to staff it, how we are going to supply it and we’ve been working very closely with our food suppliers.

Dominic Cragoe, headteacher of Sheringham Primary, said it was a good policy, but added: “We have had to make lots of changes. We will have 280 infants when all the reception class are in all day. It is a huge thing to serve that many meals, getting them sitting, holding a knife and fork and providing the space.”

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