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Sunday, 23 November 2014

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Free school meals proposals welcomed in Cumbria

Proposals to give free schools meals to all pupils under the age of eight have been welcomed in Cumbria.

School dinners photo
Cummersdale pupil Erin Johnston with school cook Zoe Thomas

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced the £600m school meals scheme yesterday at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow.

From next September pupils in reception, year one and year two will be able to take up free meals regardless of their parents’ income. The scheme should save parents around £437 a year for each child.

At the moment only children of parents earning low incomes – less than £16,000 a year – or who are on benefits are entitled to free school meals.

Gareth Jones, headteacher of Cummersdale School on the outskirts of Carlisle, lives in Annan, where his five-year-old son Devon automatically receives free school meals.

Mr Jones said: “It has been brilliant for him. He was a fussy eater and we know already that it has broadened his tastes. From a parent’s point of view it is good to know that they are getting a good feed.”

Two-thirds of the pupils at Cummersdale School sit down each day to enjoy lunch. The school employs its own cook.

Mr Jones said: “Sitting down for a meal means we can teach them in a social environment the etiquette of eating a meal, table manners, eating correctly and things like not being in a rush – it is lovely to be able to do that together.

“If this goes ahead there will be an increase in dinners. Instead of producing around 40 meals a day we’ll probably get between 50 and 60. That may have implications for staffing but as long as the money is coming in, that will be addressed.”

Ruth Walsh, inclusion manager at Brook Street School in Carlisle, said: “It was quite a surprise to hear the news, a pleasant surprise.

“Sometimes parents struggle to provide either a packed lunch or get the money for school dinners. From a school’s point of view, it helps set the children up with good habits for life and we know they are eating a proper meal at lunchtime. There are some children who may not get a proper breakfast or tea so a meal in the day is important.

“I know from the parents we’ve heard from that they have been overwhelmingly positive on hearing the news. It will take some of the financial pressure off families.”

Brook Street serves around 100 meals a day to children up to the age of 11. From September, it is likely a further 70-80 meals may be served daily.

Jose Hodgkins, head of Petteril Bank School in Harraby, said: “It is a wonderful idea. This is going to help tremendously, especially for those families who have two or three children. It will be interesting to see in the Autumn Statement how it is going to be paid for.”

A Cumbria County Council spokesperson said: “This week’s announcement could be an important step in ensuring our children are given the very best chance to succeed in the classroom.

“We will, however, await the details behind this announcement with interest as adequate levels of government funding for the scheme will clearly be critical to its success.”

The announcement has been welcomed by trade unions including the National Association of Head Teachers and the GMB.

The plan follows a study for the Department for Education which showed the move brought considerable benefits, including academic improvements.

The Lib Dems estimate 1.5 million more children will now receive free school meals when the scheme takes effect in September 2014, on top of the 400,000 who are already entitled to them.

There are currently 2,168 Cumbrian children aged five, six and seven who get free school meals – around 14 per cent of the 15,500 infant-age pupils at the county’s schools this term.

Have your say

Reply to comment by 'Bill', 28/9: I suggest you re-read my original comment praising the efforts of 'Anon' and his family.
They have taken responsibility for their lives in such a way that their role-modelling will stand their son in good stead for the rest of his life. 'Anon' and his family have not chosen the easy path in these times of financial restraints. They have chosen to build their lives in such a way that they may hold their heads up high when all we hear, from such as yourself, is negativity. I reiterate, well done to 'Anon' and his family.
For the record: I have already contacted the food-bank people to ask if they needed my help and support in my spare time. The answer I received was that they have enough volunteers for now, however, my name is on a waiting list should they require my services in the future.
I have already spent a number of years in a voluntary capacity within our community.
I have already demonstrated my social conscience in a practical and helping way. ???

Posted by Observer on 2 October 2013 at 11:24

John is entirely right. I know a few people genuinely too ill to work (some of who are actually suffering from terminal illnesses) who have to live off less than £20 a week once their utility bills are paid. If you believe living on benefits is such an easy lifestyle, spend a month eating nothing but cheap noodles and not being able to afford to do anything or go anywhere.

Posted by N.Kendall on 1 October 2013 at 03:05

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