Schools ready for free lunch

School dinners
School dinners
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WIGAN schools are hoping to avoid a catering crisis ahead of plans to provide all children with free school meals.

The Government has stated that all children in England aged five to seven will get a free meal from September.

But many schools across Greater Manchester and further afield say they are not ready for the mealtime giveaway as they scramble to get kitchens installed - sometimes in places where they had been removed years before.

However in Wigan borough education bosses believe that local schools are by and large prepared for the change.

That said, the council is declining to say which few might still be at risk of not being ready in time for the new academic year.

Steve Cassie, its assistant director for trading, said: “Thanks to careful planning and organisation we’re confident we’ll be ready for the roll-out of Universal Infant Free School Meals (UNIFSM) this summer. We’ve been involved from the beginning, with our property and facilities manager, Debbie Clarke, sitting on the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on School Food in Westminster.”

The town hall also says it intends to fully utilise government grant for the scheme and will not be having to resort to any of its own funds to help bail out schools struggling to get equipment installed.

This is despite many Council’s in Greater Manchester stating that they are being forced to stump up the extra cash themselves.

The Wigan authorities have established a specialist group to help implement the new programme.

Mr Cassie added: “We have set up a steering group which includes headteachers, school business managers, elected members, public health officials, front line operational teams and pupils so that everyone who will be affected has an input in shaping the programme to ensure the best possible outcome.”

Currently only children whose families earn £16,190 a year or less are eligible for free school meals.

But Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced the £1bn initiative to extend the offer to all pupils in their first years of primary during the Liberal Democrat conference last year.

Some headteachers have blasted the scheme as a waste of money - because some parents can easily afford meals - and unworkable despite praise from child poverty campaigners.