Norfolk schools ‘will be ready’ to give all infants free school meals

Headteacher Clare Fletcher said she and senior colleagues had to spend huge amounts of time preparin

Headteacher Clare Fletcher said she and senior colleagues had to spend huge amounts of time preparing for free school meals for infants - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2010

All Norfolk primary schools will be ready to give all infants free hot meals from September - but heads still don't know if their budgets will be hit by the government initiative.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced the introduction of universal free school meals for the youngest school children last September, but the policy has suffered claims it was rushed through and underfunded.

Although many Norfolk schools have conducted surveys of parents to gauge interest in the free meals, they are having to estimate how many children will take them up, and so what it will cost them. They also face higher energy costs, and some are hiring more staff.

Clare Fletcher, headteacher of North Walsham infant and junior schools, said: 'It's a huge logistical operation and I think a hot meal for every child should happen, but I'm not sure the way it has been funded is the fairest, or the numbers will add up.

'I think it's a grand political gesture that was needed at the time. Smaller schools are in a terrible situation if they have no way to cook a hot meal.'

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Norfolk received £1.7m from the government to cover set up costs, and the county council completed surveys of 373 primary schools by May 31 to assess essential work that was needed, and follow up visits by engineers to 150 schools are 'nearly complete'.

Chris Hey, the council's head of place planning and organisation in children's services, said these changes should be delivered within the £1.7m grant.

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Modifications include increasing electricity capacity, improving kitchen ventilation and new fridges, and four or five schools need new kitchens, which will not be completed by the start of the new year.

Mr Hey said: 'This has been a very challenging initiative for schools, but we are confident schools in Norfolk will be able to deliver the entitlement.'

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