Hundreds of Fleetwood school children are tucking into free school meals as part of a new Government plan introduced this term.
All key stage one (infant) children are now entitled to a hot dinner every day, completely free of charge and while headteachers have warmly welcomed the change, some say it has been a challenge to provide.
Funded by the Government, the free school meals are given out to make sure all children have at least one hot meal a day which in turn will improve academic attainment and save families money.
There has been a huge uptake in Fleetwood, with most families signing up for the free meals, but behind the scenes it has been a testing time.
At Shakepeare Primary School, one of the largest schools in Fleetwood, extra staff have been drafted in to cope with the demand.
Headteacher Susan Bartlett said: “While we absolutely support the free school meals, it has been very, very challenging. We are dishing up 1,350 meals a week and I think it would have been better to introduce the scheme slowly. I must commend the ladies in the kitchen who are doing a tremendous job, they are working so hard.”
At St Wulstan’s and St Edmund’s Catholic School, children have been tucking into their meals cooked on the premises and clearing their plates.
Headteacher Richard Sanderson said: “There has been a great response to the Government’s Free Meals initiative. We still have the same number of children eating in the hall but it is nice to see so many of them now also enjoying a hot meal. Everyone has worked so hard to get ready for this and I must say, the children and staff have adapted well.”
And at Larkholme Primary School, headteacher Val Pilkington Smith said all but 10 children in key stage one were having the dinners.
She added: “It’s fantastic and this week it’s all systems go because the reception children are in school for full days now.
“Anything that helps families out is welcomed but there are other things which should be free too – such as milk which has to be paid for once children turn five.”
Roger Eakhurst, Lancashire County Council’s assistant director responsible for school catering, said: “It’s been quite a challenge to ensure Key Stage 1 pupils can have free school meals.
“The majority of schools have needed more light kitchen equipment – pots, pans, plates and so on – and around 200 extra staff have also been recruited.
“A nutritious hot lunch has been shown to be very beneficial for children.”