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Home   Maidstone   News   Article

Schools may face teething troubles as free dinner plan starts, warns county council education chief

03 September 2014
by Paul Francis

Education chiefs have warned there could be teething problems with a government scheme that will see about 50,000 more children in Kent and Medway get free school meals.

The flagship government initiative has faced criticism from many schools who say they will have to stagger lunch hours and their existing kitchens are too small to cope.

KCC was allocated £2.7m to implement the coalition’s scheme – including extending existing or building new kitchens.

Schools have warned they will have to stagger lunch hours and their existing kitchens are too small to cope. Picture Chris Davey

Schools have warned they will have to stagger lunch hours and their existing kitchens are too small to cope. Picture: Chris Davey

But officials say that fell short of what was needed, saying £7m would have been a more realistic figure.

In Kent, about 41,000 children are to benefit including 4,222 who are living in poverty. In Medway, the figure is 8,032 with 996 living in poverty.

Cllr Roger Gough (Con), Kent County Council’s education cabinet member, said: “We do not think the scheme has been funded to enable us to do it properly.

"Money from the government allows us to do 12 major kitchen projects but that still leaves us with 130 schools without a kitchen and 60 importing meals." - Cllr Roger Gough

"We did get money from the government which allowed us to do 12 major kitchen projects but that still leaves us with 130 schools without a kitchen and 60 importing meals." 

"We see the merits of the initiative but there is no doubt we will see some difficulties for schools in the coming weeks. We have got to see how it works out in practice.”

It was unlikely that KCC would be able to find more money to help redevelop and improve other kitchens, he added.

Kent County Council education cabinet member Roger Gough

Kent County Council education cabinet member Roger Gough

The Children’s Society said the coalition scheme was a significant step forward but it still left 500,000 in poverty unable to get a free school meal.

“For poor youngsters older than seven, nothing has changed. That is why it is vital ministers build on this to make sure that every child in poverty is guaranteed a free school meal, whatever their age," said chief executive Matthew Reed.

One Kent headteacher warned this summer that his school would struggle to cope.
Jim Holditch, the head teacher of Godinton Primary School, Ashford, said:

“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.”

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