Shropshire well prepared for introduction of free school meals for infants
Shropshire’s schools, and Shropshire Council’s school meals provider, are well prepared for an anticipated 40% increase in school meals that will be served once universal free meals for infants are introduced at the start of the new school year.
From September 2104 all state-funded infant school children (ie. those in reception, Year 1 and Year 2) will be eligible to receive a free school meal. This applies to pupils in maintained schools, academies, free schools and pupil referral units. Schools will be legally obliged to provide these meals.
Shropshire Council’s school meals provider, Shire Services, currently provides catering services to 112 primary schools in Shropshire (87%), which includes two Academy schools.
Across these schools it is anticipated that there will be an increase of 3,192 meals served per day from September 2014, taking the daily number of meals served in Shropshire’s primary schools to 11,138 – an increase of 40%.
Shire Services also provides a school meals service to three infant schools which will see a significant increase in the number of meals provided, with all pupils eligible for a free school meal from September.
Shire Services are committed to supporting schools to ensure that the requirements of additional meals from September can be met. Staff have been gathering information from all primary schools, to identify their requirements from September. This work has involved talking to headteachers and kitchen staff, as well as a review of the kitchen equipment, the capacity of the hall and the lunchtime arrangements.
The team is currently working with schools in order to develop a plan for each school which will identify issues which still need to be addressed and to check out any concerns.
Ann Hartley, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for children’s services – transformation and safeguarding, said:
“This new legislation will see a huge increase in the number of meals served in our schools, but I’m delighted that our schools and Shire Services are well prepared.
“Unlike many other areas, Shropshire Council has always worked hard to maintain a countywide hot school meals service and to ensure that where practicable schools in the county are able to cook fresh food on site.
“Investment in kitchens and the school meals service over the last 20 years has resulted in every school in the county continuing to have a hot school meal each day. In the vast majority of cases this meal is cooked on site in the school kitchen, with a handful of very small school receiving a meal transported from a nearby school.
“As a result of this, the issues that Shropshire schools face when planning for the additional meals in September are less extreme than some of the case studies being highlighted in the media.”
Janet Croft, Shire Services manager, said:
“Our team have been working closely with our schools to make sure that they’re prepared for September, and to identify any issues that need to be resolved before then. I’m pleased to say that the vast majority of our schools are well prepared, and the rest are on track to be ready by September.
“Each school has different needs and will have different requirements in order to implement this change. In 16 schools, where they already have a good level of uptake of meals in Key Stage 1, there are fewer than 10 meals per day extra to be produced in September: as a result there is very little support that this group of schools will need to implement the new requirement.
“The largest increase in the number of meals being produced is 124 per day. To manage this, there will be a need for additional equipment in the kitchen, additional serving trolleys and new staff will be recruited and trained ready for September. We also have 21 schools who provide an exported meal to a nearby school which does not have a kitchen. Though this presents additional issues, these will be addressed ready for September.”
Capital funding of £150 million is available nationally in 2014/15 to enable schools to upgrade kitchens and to increase dining capacity where required. For Shropshire this equates to £662,822 and the distribution of this funding has been agreed by the Shropshire schools forum.
Transitional funding of £22.5 million is also being made available in 2014-15 to support small schools (ie schools with up to 150 pupils on roll) in addressing the particular challenges they will face. A total of 79 Shropshire schools (62.7%) will qualify for this additional funding, equating to £390,000; the formulae for distributing this funding has been dictated by the Government, and ensures a minimum of £3,000 per school.
In the 2014/15 academic year schools will receive revenue funding at a flat rate of £2.30 for each meal taken by each newly eligible pupil.
At the same time, the parents or carers pupils who would be eligible for free school meals under the existing criteria are being urged to continue to register – as the number of children on role eligible for free meals influences the amount of state funding that a school receives.
This information is essential for both the allocation of funding, including the pupil premium, and the collection of accurate statistics.
The School Food Plan (www.schoolfoodplan.com) presented evidence that the introduction of universal free school meals will lead to positive improvements in health, attainment and social cohesion, and help families with the cost of living. Evidence from pilot projects indicates universal free school meals have significant benefits for individual children and for the broader life of the school.
Existing entitlements to free school meals (FSM) for disadvantaged pupils in nursery classes and at key stages 2-4 will continue, based on existing FSM eligibility criteria.