AN “outstanding” effort to revamp and rebuild kitchens means every school in Staffordshire will be able to serve infants free school meals from the beginning of next term.
Kitchen upgrade work at more than 150 schools has been commissioned by Staffordshire County Council after the Government confirmed in mid-December that all pupils in reception class and Years One and Two would receive a free school meal from September 2014.
Ben Adams, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet member for Learning and Skills, said: “Many larger schools just didn’t have the facilities in place to meet the increase in demand when all the youngest children are entitled to a meal.
“Since December we have commissioned our services provider Entrust to inspect more than 180 schools and then carry out the necessary work.
“When you consider the size of Staffordshire and the number of schools involved, it’s been an outstanding effort to get this far, this quickly and be in a position to make this commitment.”
The Department for Education made education authorities responsible for ensuring schools with more than 150 pupils were able to meet the Government commitment, while smaller schools received funding direct.
Staffordshire received the eighth largest settlement of 152 authorities of just over £2 million for maintained and church schools.
Work to prepare schools has ranged from installing serveries, refrigeration and new ovens, to making structural alterations to accommodate equipment and moving mains electricity and gas supplies. Local suppliers and tradesmen are being used wherever possible.
Councillor Adams said: “The importance of healthy eating in schools has long been recognised in Staffordshire and we are proud of the balanced, nutritious meals provided by Entrust.
“We use locally supplied food wherever possible, and last year banned processed meat from our schools in favour of locally sourced fresh meat, which is all British Red Tractor accredited.
“The new initiative will allow more children the opportunity to benefit from a good meal to set them up for a day’s learning and I hope in the long run it will encourage more children to carry on eating school dinners.”