Schools in Worcestershire are not well-equipped for hot meals revolution, says councillor

Councillor Paul Denham

Councillor Paul Denham

First published in News Worcester News: Tom Edwards by , Political Reporter

A FORMER teacher turned councillor claims Worcestershire is paying the price for a "u-turn" on school meals - insisting too many are ill-prepared for September's hot dinner revolution.

All pupils in the first three years of primary school can get free hot lunches from this autumn in a £600 million Coalition Government bid to appease parents.

Councillor Paul Denham, a former teacher at the old Elgar High School, says years of underfunding has left many schools without good enough kitchens to cope with a sudden explosion in take-up.

His criticism has been rejected by Worcestershire County Council, which says state schools have been handed £1.2 million ahead of September's big change and are all ready to go.

Back in the 1980s, after Margaret Thatcher's Government decided schools were no longer forced to provide hot meals many new schools were built without them and in some cases, kitchens were converted for other uses.

As well as neglecting kitchen facilities, many have since turned to outside caterers to deliver hot meals for them.

Cllr Denham said: "Primary age children entitled to free school meals were given packets of sandwiches which identified them to other pupils.

"Kitchens were converted for other uses and new schools were built without them.

"Schools without kitchens are now expected to provide free hot meals by September.

"Some do not have sufficient space to seat pupils for lunch and will need multiple sittings which require more supervision and impact on lesson times.

"Some Worcestershire schools are to have meals delivered from outside caterers and other schools but that might mean that their meals are lukewarm, not hot, when served."

His criticism has been rejected by the council, which says the has Government awarded it £1.2 million for new kitchen and dining facilities to prepare for the policy.

Councillor Liz Eyre, cabinet member for children and families, said: "It's a choice for parents to make and not all of them will want free school meals.

"When we told schools we had this money not one of them applied for extra space for their kitchens - some of them said bits of equipment or a refresh of their facilities would help.

"We had bids for money from 145 first and primary schools and 13 secondaries, and of those only three exceeded the limit.

"They asked for a total of £1.3 million and we spent £1.2 million, so nearly all of them got what they wanted."

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