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Free school dinners to become available for infants

By Leek Post and Times  |  Posted: July 05, 2014

From left, Lauren Taylor, Poppy Frost, Theo Kirtley and William Cooke.

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Schools in the Staffordshire Moorlands will be able to serve infants free meals from the beginning of next term – after an "outstanding effort" to revamp and rebuild kitchens.

Work at more than 150 schools county-wide has been commissioned by Staffordshire County Council.

It comes 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.

The schools within the Leek and Cheadle areas which have received a revamp in their kitchens include Leek First, Werrington, Endon Hall Primary, Cheadle Primary, Springcroft in Blythe Bridge, St Anne's Brown Edge in Endon, St John's in Wetley Rocks, Knypersley, St Luke's in Endon, Forsbrook, and William Amory in Blythe Bridge, along with Westwood First and Woodcroft, both in Leek.

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Previously, pupils were only eligible for free meals if their families were on low incomes and claimed benefits.

Now opening it up to other families will save them an average of £400 a year per child.

Kevin Allbutt, headteacher of Leek First School, said: "We've got a lot of parents who work part-time and who earn just above the current threshold for free meals.

"From the point of view of parents and young children, the changes will be fantastic. It's a brilliant initiative.

"In September, we'll have 90 children in key stage one who will qualify for free meals. It will give them access to a nutritionally balanced, healthy and hot meal every day."

As from September, the East Street school will be able to cook all its meals on site after getting an oven, gas supply and fridge-freezer through the investment.

Previously, the food was prepared elsewhere and reheated at lunchtimes.

Six-year-old Leek First School pupil Lauren Taylor, from Cheadle, said: "I think more children will have them if the meals are free."

Classmate Theo Kirtley, aged six, from Leek, added: "I have school dinners normally. I like pasta and pizza the best.

"When they're cooked at our school, they will be warmer."

Ben Adams, Staffordshire County Council's Cabinet member for Learning & 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 14th 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.

Smaller schools will receive funding directly.

Staffordshire received the eighth largest settlement of 152 authorities: £2.03million 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 to complete the work at the schools.

Academies are not part of this programme.

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