MORE than half of Oxfordshire’s 232 state primary schools require kitchen upgrades to comply with the Government’s new free meals policy and 41 have no kitchen at all.
With less than three months before the programme takes effect on September 2, at the start of the new school year, some schools are struggling to make arrangements to feed significantly more pupils.
One school needs to serve five times the number of meals it does now.
Individual schools and Oxfordshire County Council have criticised the Government for under-funding the policy, and expect they will have to meet the shortfall from their own budgets.
Across the county, 123 primary schools – 53 per cent – “require some form of equipment or upgrade to kitchen facilities in order to accommodate the Government’s offer”, said a spokesman for the county council.
This includes 41 primary schools, or 18 per cent of the total, that have no kitchen.
State-funded schools must provide a hot meal each day to all children from reception to year two (aged from four to seven) from September in an attempt to combat under-fed pupils.
But the policy, which was announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg last September, has come under attack for its rushed execution.
Jon Gray, headteacher at Cutteslowe Primary School in Oxford, said: “It’s a good idea, but there should have been more time to implement it.”
Lynn Knapp, headteacher at Windmill Primary School in Headington, added: “It’s not a particularly good use of public money, and it’s being rushed so quickly.”
Anna Ballance, headteacher of Southwold School in Bicester, said: “The Government made the decision and imposed a policy without realising the implications.”
Mrs Ballance said she feared her school would need to spend up to £4,000 a year for extra administration and lunch supervisors to comply with the new policy.
The Government is giving the county council £1.47m to help improve kitchens and dining areas.
The council’s education head, Melinda Tilley, described the policy as “utter madness” and warned the total cost could be about £2m. Not all schools would be able to provide hot meals by the deadline, she added.
Carole Thomson, chairwoman of the Oxfordshire Governors’ Association, criticised the council for being “very slow off the mark”.
She said it only began to ask schools about their capacity to feed pupils in March.
Mrs Tilley responded: “The timetable for the announcement and introduction of this policy meant local authorities across the country were given a very limited amount of time to prepare.”
Liberal Democrat county coun-cillor John Howson defended the scheme. He said: “A year should be long enough to implement the policy. It’s going to make a huge difference to schools.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Universal free school meals have already been shown to work in the pilot schemes run in 2009. Schools have had longer to prepare for the introduction of universal free school meals this September than schools in those pilot areas had.”
Food With Thought, a partnership between the county council and Carillion, supplies meals to 80 per cent of the county’s schools, according to the council.
A spokesman for Food With Thought said: “Where schools require additional equipment or physical upgrades a robust plan is in place to deliver these in a cost-effective way, and we are confident that this will be achieved for the start of September.”
Many schools closed their kitchens a decade or more ago to save money or to create space for computer rooms, said Southwold’s Mrs Ballance.
Schools serving more meals will likely need to hire more lunchtime supervisors at an additional cost.
'IMPLEMENTING IT WILL BE VERY DIFFICULT'
SOUTHWOLD School in Bicester is one of the 41 primary schools in Oxfordshire that does not have a kitchen.
It now serves 30 packed lunches a day, but from the next school year it will have to provide 150 hot meals.
“Implementing it will be very difficult,” said headteacher Anna Ballance.
To cope, Southwold, which has a total of 350 pupils, will transport the hot meals from nearby Brookside Primary School’s kitchen.
“I am concerned about the length of time,” said Mrs Ballance. “It takes ages to feed a young child.”
Pupils in years three to six may have to eat in their classrooms, rather than in the hall as they do now, due to limited space.
NUMBER OF MEALS PRIMARY SERVES WILL DOUBLE TO 400
WINDMILL Primary School in Headington has to substantially modify its kitchen to provide hot meals to double the number of pupils it usually does – from 200 to 400.
The school needs to buy a combi-steamer and pass-through dishwasher, as well as install new drainage in the existing kitchen.
Headteacher Lynn Knapp with pupils. Picture: OX67368 Damian Halliwell
“The county will be funding it but we don’t know when it’s going to be done,” said headteacher Lynn Knapp. Nor does the school yet know the cost.
Mrs Knapp said Oxfordshire County Council only notified the school of the equipment in mid
She is worried the doubling of children being fed hot meals might force the school to expand the time allocated for staggered lunch hours – currently 11.45am to 1.20pm – in the hall.
'NOT A LOT OF INFORMATION, NOT A LOT OF HELP'
CUTTESLOWE Primary School in Oxford is one of the county’s lucky schools – it has an adequate kitchen to comply with the new free meals policy – but its headteacher is still worried the school might be out of pocket.
“We’ll know by Christmas whether we’ve got enough money or not,” said Jon Gray.
As Cutteslowe is an academy, its funding comes direct from the Government, whereas
state-schools are generally funded by Oxfordshire County Council.
Cutteslowe Primary School headteacher Jon Gray. Picture: OX67666 Antony Moore
Mr Gray said he was not confident the £2.30 per hot meal funded by the Government will cover total costs. “There’s not a lot of information, not a lot of help, really,” he said.
Cutteslowe, which expects to have a total of 290 pupils next year, will go from feeding about 100 now to about 180 in September.
MORE THAN 40 COUNTY SCHOOLS ARE NOT EQUIPPED
A TOTAL of 41 Oxfordshire schools do not have a kitchen.
- Aston & Cote Church of England Primary School
- Badgemore Community Primary School, Henley
- Bishop Carpenter CofE Primary School, North Newington
- Bishopswood Special School, Sonning Common
- Bletchingdon Parochial CofE Primary School
- Checkendon CofE Primary School
- Clanfield CofE Primary School
- Clifton Hampden CofE Primary School
- Dorchester St Birinus CofE School
- Dr South’s CofE Primary School, Islip
- Ewelme CofE Primary School
- Finmere CofE Primary School
- Finstock CofE Primary School
- Frank Wise School, Bicester
- Glory Farm Primary School, Bicester,
- Great Rollright CofE Primary School
- Great Tew Primary School
- Hornton Primary School
- John Watson School, Wheatley
- Leafield CofE Primary School
- Lewknor CofE Primary School
- Little Milton CofE Primary School
- Mabel Prichard School, Oxford
- Marcham CofE Primary School
- Shellingford CofE School
- Shenington CofE Primary School
- South Stoke Primary School
- Southwold Primary School, Bicester
- Springfield School, Witney
- St Edmund’s Catholic Voluntary Aided Primary School, Abingdon
- St John’s Catholic Primary School, Banbury,
- St Laurence CofE Primary School, Warborough
- St Mary’s CofE Infant School, Witney
- St Nicholas CofE Infants’ School and Foundation Stage Unit, Wallingford
- St Peter’s CofE Infants’ School, Bampton
- St Peter’s CofE Primary School, Cassington
- Stoke Row CofE Primary School
- Tetsworth Primary School
- Watlington Primary School
- Woodcote Primary School
- Woodstock CofE Primary School
WHAT THE GOVERNMENT WANTS
THE Government requires all state-funded schools to offer a hot meal each day to every child from reception to year two.
The policy, which commences on September 2, is designed to ensure all primary school children up to seven years old are receiving adequate nutrition at school.
The Government is providing £150m to improve school kitchens and dining facilities, plus another £22.5m to help small schools provide the hot meals.
The problem with the current system is that not all children who are eligible for free school meals are claiming them. This might be due to social stigma, lack of knowledge by parents, or other reasons.
A Department for Education spokesman said that last year only 11 per cent of Oxfordshire pupils were claiming school meals, whereas another 21 per cent were entitled to them but did not take up the offer.
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