School dinners plan gets big thumbs up
PRIMARY schools in Swindon have welcomed plans introduced by Nick Clegg to provide a free school meal to every child between the ages of five and seven.
The benefits to the learning environment of having a balanced school meal is something all teachers want to embrace, and they are not concerned about any pressures on school kitchens.
Samantha Wells, business manager at Eldene Primary School, said: “We welcome this announcement. It has been proven that a hot meal in the middle of the day is certainly conducive to teaching and learning, and we feel it is a good thing that this is being rolled out for everyone.
“We are hoping we will be receiving adequate funding to provide it.”
Alison Lowe, headteacher of Even Swindon Primary School, said: “I would definitely back the announcement to provide a hot meal to every child up to the age of seven. I support it completely.
“It has its nutritional basis partly off the work Jamie Oliver has done around school meals and the campaign around that. It is always a healthy, balanced meal, and parents can feel safe in that knowledge. It also supports learning having a good school meal.”
While it is unknown how many pupils will take up the offer of a free meal, Alison is not worried about the potential strain on her staff, as the school kitchen is in the process of being extended.
She added: “We have some logistical problems we need to sort out before we can provide the service, but fortunately we are having our kitchen extended. We are in the very lucky position that we had begun the work before the announcement came out, and so we should be able to cope with the increase.
“If every child took up a free dinner we would have to cater for an extra 270 students, while at the moment we do between 140 and 180 every day. I anticipate we would be doing up to 400 every day after this comes in.”
Samantha wants to encourage more children to take advantage of the offer, even though the school also provides meals to the Chalet School.
“I think it is great,” she said. “If it can increase the take up of hot school meals it will be fantastic. Our uptake for the hot meals is in line with the national average, but we would love to take it up above 50 per cent of all children, so if they are all being offered for free we could certainly see a surge in that area.”
Arguments for the plans have revolved around the stigma around poorer pupils receiving free meals, but schools say they exercise discretion to ensure this is not a problem.
“There isn’t any stigma surrounding free school dinners as far as we are concerned, because people pay in advance for their meals so nobody will know when they go up to collect their food who is receiving free school meals and who is not.” Alison said.
Samantha added: “We offer a hot meal and a vegetarian option every day. It all ties in with the governments nutritional requirements. I think Jamie would be proud of us.”
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