Thousands of children are now tucking into free school meals across Derbyshire as part of a new Government initiative that has kicked in this term.
The initiative was announced last autumn and means that all reception, year one and year two children in state-funded schools in England are now entitled to free school lunches.
Prior to the scheme’s launch, it was estimated that somewhere between 7,400 and 9,885 more children per day could be benefiting from free school meals across all Derbyshire infant, primary and special schools, depending on take up.
To help them with provision of the new scheme, Derbyshire County Council was granted £1,761,052 in capital funding from central Government to prepare their facilities for the increasing demand.
More than half of this money was spent on equipment, while around £60,000 was spent on kitchen upgrades and £680,000 was spent on conversions.
The authority has also recruited an extra 130 catering assistants to serve up the lunches, and council chiefs have confirmed that all the 304 schools in the county that have been bound to provide the new universal free school meals are doing so as the new term starts.
Councillor Kevin Gillott, the county council’s cabinet member for children and young people, said: “Our staff worked hard to ensure all the necessary equipment was installed and everything was in place to allow a smooth start to the scheme.
“In Derbyshire we have always recognised the importance of giving children a healthy meal with the launch of our breakfast clubs at 24 schools.
“We’re pleased the Government has followed our lead and is offering all infant children a free school dinner. Research shows that hungry children can be disruptive and are less likely to do well at school and we know that many families are struggling financially.”
Launched nationally by Deputy Prime minister Nick Clegg, the scheme may potentially save parents across the county £8million on school meals.
Many families across Derbyshire who previously spent up to £400 a year on meals look set to reap the benefits of the new initiative.
Outlining the impact of the new changes, Mr Clegg said: “Free school meals for infants will not only save families hundreds of pounds a year but will also have an impact on how a child performs in the classroom so that, regardless of their background, every child can have the best possible start in life.
“Pupils at the pilot schools who were all given free meals were found to be up to two months ahead of their peers elsewhere.
“This is one of the most progressive changes to our school system for a long time. My goal is to create a level playing field for all of our children so their success will be determined by their talents and efforts alone and not by their parents’ bank balance.”
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