The number of young schoolchildren receiving free meals at lunchtime in Argyll and Bute is expected to treble in January – at a cost of nearly £800,000 per year.
The council says that potentially the number of children in primaries one, two and three classes with the option to receive a free healthy, nutritious meal in the middle of the day may rise from the current 759 to approximately 2,459.
Research shows children are more likely to concentrate in the classroom in the afternoon after eating healthy school lunches, with improvements to their health as well as their understanding about making better food choices.
In preparation for the new arrangements, introduced by the Scottish Government as part of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act, Argyll and Bute Council has agreed a pilot scheme which will run from October this year.
A statement issued this week said the changes would have ‘major implications’ for some schools, and the pilot scheme will ‘fully test the operational impact and assess the actual cost implications’.
During the pilot scheme, free meals will be provided to the affected schools for one week on a rolling programme running from October 27 until December 19.
Parents will receive information about the pilot scheme when schools return following the summer break, in mid-August.
The cost to the council of providing the increased number of meals is estimated to be £768,900 during the first year – 2015/16 – to cover additional food, staffing, dining room supervision and extra kitchen equipment.
However, the government has indicated it will fund any additional costs and may off-set any additional costs to the council – the details of these arrangements are being negotiated through CoSLA.
The provision of a meal to children who may not have one at the moment, for a variety of reasons, is aimed at promoting healthy eating in early years and underpins the council’s commitment to ensuring that every pupil has the best chance of making the most of their education opportunities.
The school menu is designed largely by pupils, through consultation with them. A programme of pupil focus groups aims to ensure that children can contribute to the menu’s development, and it also gives them an understanding of having a balanced choice.
Parents can claim free school lunches for their children if they are receiving:
- Income Support (IS)
- Income-based Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- Any income related element of Employment and Support Allowance
- Child Tax Credit (CTC), but not Working Tax Credit, and your income is less than £16,010
- Both maximum Child Tax Credit and maximum Working Tax Credit and your income is under £6,420
- Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
- Universal Credit
If you are between 16 and 18 years old and receive any of these benefits in your own right, you can claim free school lunches for yourself.
Argyll and Bute Council’s school menu has achieved the Soil Association’s Catering Mark Bronze Award, which promotes freshly made, sustainable and farm assured meals for food quality and safety.