Schools echo concern on Coalition’s free meals policy

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Head teacher Andrew Marsh-Ballard with, from left, Amber, Grace, Grace, Kayla, Theay and Layla                                                                              (PM1109) By PAUL MORRIS Head teacher Andrew Marsh-Ballard with, from left, Amber, Grace, Grace, Kayla, Theay and Layla (PM1109) By PAUL MORRIS

HEADTEACHER Andrew Marsh-Ballard has joined the national chorus of complaints from schools about a Government decision to introduce free meals for all infant pupils from age four to seven.

Mr Marsh-Ballard, head of Priestley Primary School in Calne, said he was not against it in principle, but schools had not been given enough notice to bring in the change by September.

He said: “We may have to make the lunch break longer, as we will have to introduce an extra sitting, and children of this age eat very slowly. We will also have to cover the cost of extra staff.

“We still do not have all the information we need to be able to tell parents exactly what is going to happen.

“We could end up with around 90 children having lunch, which is twice as many as we have at the moment. We may have to have three sittings.”

Gail Larkin, of the National Association of Head Teachers, said:”This policy was a nice soundbite and took us all by surprise. It just thought through properly.

“One school that has been trialling this has had to start lunches at 11am and finish at 2pm. It’s ridiculous.”

But Lorraine Colquhoun, headteacher of Rowde Academy, said she was excited about the change and had put a number of changes in place to make lunchtime a special experience.

She said: “We have a new school, with excellent facilities, so it is easier for us.”

Mrs Colquhoun has ditched what she called “prison issue trays” and introduced proper crockery and cutlery wrapped up in a napkin.

She said: “We want it to be a complete dining experience for the children and they have a choice of four different healthy options.

“It is a great opportunity for youngsters to learn not just about food but the social aspect of dining together.”

She works closely with caterer Lataca, run by Laura Taylor based in Rowde, which supplies eight primary schools in Devizes and nearby villages.

Mrs Taylor set up her firm in 2007, when her son was a Rowde pupil and she was disappointed with food quality.

She says the change will mean she needs two more staff for her current 13-strong workforce.

She runs the kitchens of schools that have facilities and delivers to those who do not.

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