26/09/2012 - Permalink

Changes on the way for primary school meals funding

Related topics: Community / My area

The Government is changing the way it funds primary school meals as part of wider funding reforms – which could have an impact for lunchtimes at some Shropshire primary schools.

Reforms being introduced from April 2013 will mean that Government funding for school meals will be delegated directly to primary schools based on how many pupils they have and how many are eligible for free meals.  This will replace the current system of Shropshire Council centrally retaining funding which the council’s school catering arm, Shire Services, uses to provide fresh hot meals for every primary school in the county.

This will mean about half of Shropshire’s smaller schools will face a shortfall in funding that could lead to some of them not being able to provide school meals in the same way as they currently do.

Shropshire Council now wants to talk to schools, governors, parents and pupils about how we can work together to continue to provide hot meals for those pupils who want them.

A number of options could be investigated, such as:

  • A school could negotiate a different contract with Shire Services or contract the service out to another provider
  • Schools could work together so that a school provided meals for a number of others in the area
  • A pub or restaurant, or group of volunteers, could cook meals for the local school
  • Kitchen staff could run their own service as an independent organisation.

Of course, schools could decide to stop providing hot school meals and either serve pre-prepared cold lunches or ask pupils to bring their own packed lunch.  It’s important to note that all pupils entitled to free school meals would still have a packed lunch provided, even if their school stopped serving hot school meals.

Cecilia Motley, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for learning and skills, said:

“These changes are essentially an unforeseen consequence of the Government’s school funding reforms and, as the council is no longer able to retain the funding centrally, we really don’t have any choice about whether we follow them or not.  Yet again, it is a case of rural counties getting the thin end of the wedge, as these changes will pose a particular difficulty for small schools in more isolated areas.

“We will be making the point to the Government that this aspect of the reforms could cause real issues in Shropshire, but it’s now up to all of us who want to keep our school meals to work together to come up with some alternative options.  By working together and thinking outside the box we could find some really positive ways forward, so we will be speaking to schools and communities to hear their thoughts.

“Shire Services currently provide award-winning, fresh, nutritious hot meals to every primary school in Shropshire – we are one of the few remaining counties in the country to be doing that, in part due to the fact that we have kept the primary school meals budget centrally retained by the council.  We are well aware that these changes could have an impact on the catering jobs in those schools which may not be able to continue to provide a school meals service, and we are talking to staff about how we might mitigate those risks.”

Shire Services runs a Facebook page, called ‘Shropshire School Meals’, which provides information about meals at both primary and secondary schools in Shropshire.  People can post messages and suggestions on that page.  Parents can also talk to their local school governors, teachers or local councillors about their future options.

Ultimately it is up to school governors how they use their budgets, so it will be a decision for each individual school as to whether they continue with the current service or do something different when the reforms come in.

The key facts are as follows:

  • Based on current costs and existing pupil and free school meal numbers, about half of Shropshire Council’s 131 primary schools are likely to have insufficient funding to cover the cost of their current school meals service from April 2013.
  • The potential funding gap differs from school to school, so some may be able to reallocate funding from elsewhere in their budgets.
  • In any school which decides not to continue their existing service, there is unfortunately an inevitable risk to the catering jobs in that school.
  • Other local authorities have already delegated their school meals funding (some did so years ago) and so the situation faced by Shropshire is not being replicated across the country.
  • Shropshire is one of the few remaining areas in the country where a fresh hot meal is offered to every primary school pupil because the council avoided delegating school meals funding due to the rural and sparsely-populated nature of some parts of the county.