Primary schools fear an influx in youngsters wanting school meals when they become free to youngest from September
Some primary schools are warning they could struggle to offer young children free school meals under a flagship government initiative.
From September, all children in reception classes and Years 1 and 2 will have the right to free school meals. The programme was announced last year by the coalition.
But a number of schools in Kent say their kitchens are not big enough to accommodate the increased demand and if take-up is high, they will struggle to do so without lengthening or staggering lunch times.
A healthy school meal. Library picture
County education chiefs are surveying all its primary schools to assess how many will need work done to their kitchens by the start of the school year.
KCC has been allocated £2.7m to implement the coalition’s scheme - including extending existing or building new kitchens.
One head has questioned whether there will be enough time to do the work as it will have to be done over the five-week holiday.
Jim Holditch, the headteacher of Godinton Primary School, Ashford, said he seriously doubted whether he would be able to cope if all pupils take up the offer.
“Under the new proposals, we might have to cook up to 240 meals each day. I seriously doubt whether the kitchen facility can cope with this number.”
In a newsletter to parents, he wrote: “While the principle of the idea is very good, like most things thought up by politicians, it really hasn’t been thought through.”
Godinton School Head Jim Holditch
He added: “If there are a number of schools like us in the same position, five weeks [over the summer holiday] to make sure that everything is done is going to be a tight ask.”
He also raised concerns over whether caterers used by schools without kitchens would also struggle to cope with the increased demand.
The potential concerns were echoed by David Metcalf, the headteacher of Capel Le Ferne Primary School and chairman of the Kent Primary Schools Forum.
"It is a positive move and will benefit children but it is obviously bringing some challenges and the announcement caught a lot of people by surprise" - headteacher David Metcalf
“There are going to be some issues.
"It is a positive move and will benefit children but it is obviously bringing some challenges and the announcement caught a lot of people by surprise.
"We have a kitchen on site but there are still implications for schools and timing of lunch breaks.”
Nigel Utton, the headteacher of Bromstone Primary in Margate, said schools would have to lengthen or stagger lunch breaks, which could be disruptive to classes.
“It is a capacity issue. We do not have a large enough hall so will effectively have to have two lunch breaks. It needed clearer thinking and more negotiations with schools.”
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