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Education: Suffolk prepared to dish out new free school meals initiative but concerns whether Essex will be ready for new term

PUBLISHED: 06:00 16 August 2014

Graham White of the Suffolk branch of the National Union of Teachers

Graham White of the Suffolk branch of the National Union of Teachers

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From the start of the new term in September schools will have to provide free meals to all pupils between the ages of four and seven.

The move has been funded by the government after Nick Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister, announced the initiative earlier this year.

It is thought parents could save around £400 a year through the scheme.

But while some counties such as Suffolk are ready for the new measures others like Essex are concerned they haven’t been given enough time.

A spokesman for Essex County Council, which was given £3.157m from the government to upgrade school kitchens, said: “Works are taking place across Essex. The council is working closely with schools and contractors to make sure the necessary improvements are in place by September.

“A scheme of this magnitude has never been undertaken before and we will have a clearer view of the status of each kitchen in the first week of September.”

Jerry Glazier, general secretary of the Essex National Union of Teachers (NUT) branch, warns that there may be “teething problems”.

He said: “I guess they probably are going to be winging it, they seem less than certain.

“The picture is a mix across the county. Some schools were better placed than others to expand, while others had historically got rid of their facilities.

“You have to accept people are working hard to put in place the necessary equipment but it may not be perfect at the start of term, which would be a pity if that was the case.

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said: “We’ve been working with schools before the summer and over the holidays to get them ready to provide free school meals for Reception, Year One and Year Two pupils.

“In most cases this has required a bit of extra kitchen equipment but in other cases it has involved building whole new kitchens.”

Three schools will benefit from completely knew facilities: Springfield Infant School, St Pancras Catholic Primary and St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, all in Ipswich. Previously the meals they served were prepared by neighbouring schools.

In total £1.7million has been spent by SCC getting ready for the changes which come into effect next month, with all of it coming from central government.

Equipment purchased for the county’s school’s includes more than 40 combi ovens, more than 40 heated mobile service counters, upwards of 70 fridge-freezers and around 12,000 items of crockery, including beakers, trays and cutlery.

The council has been working with East Anglian Tastes for Schools (EATS) to implement the new policy.

Chris Denny from EATS said: We’ve been busy recruiting additional staff and across the county that’s around 200 part-time staff.

“I think it will be very useful (for children) to get in the habit of having a hot two-course meal and eating with their friends and all the benefits of having a good balanced diet.”

Graham White, speaking on behalf of the West Suffolk branch of the National Union of Teachers, said he welcomed the introduction of the scheme.

However he added an increased demand for meals could lead to problems serving them up.

“We may have more than one sitting which isn’t an ideal situation,” he said. But it’s better than not having them.

“We absolutely welcome it but in some schools it will present problems.”

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