IN a few weeks all infant pupils could be tucking in to free school meals regardless of their parents' income in a change that is intended to boost educational attainment.

The universal free school meal plan was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg last year, and schools across the district have since been hard at work preparing for its introduction this September.

Essentially schools up and down the country will be expected to offer all under sevens a meal at lunchtime for free - and this should routinely be a hot meal option. Schools are being allocated £2.30 per meal taken, and some funding has been granted to local authorities to help with the schools that will need kitchen upgrades - around 40 in Bradford.

One school that is having a new kitchen fitted over the summer holiday is Haworth Primary. Headteacher Helen Thompson is feeling positive about the introduction of the universal infant free school meals system.

As she explains: "We are a Food for Life Partnership Gold Award school, so food education has been central to our school ethos for a long time. These principles are also extended to our before and after school club, where they also give the children a home cooked meal each day. We also have the Healthy School's Award and place a high value on developing children's understanding of healthy lifestyles from an early age.

"All classes ensure that food education is integrated into the curriculum and we also develop farm links to ensure that children have a clear understanding of where their food comes from. We ensure that every child in school does a minimum of 12 hours cooking every year and we grow a lot of our own vegetables which are eaten as part of school dinners. We ensure that we have high quality, healthy school meals and place a high value on increasing our school meal uptake."

At the moment school meal numbers fluctuate on a daily basis at Haworth Primary as children change between dinners and sandwiches over the course of the week. Around 130 children take up school meals out of the 201 on roll. The meals are cooked on site with a three week rolling menu. A well stocked salad bar is popular with the children and plans have already been made for changes to the menus in readiness for September. In addition amendments are expected to the "sittings" to allow more time to serve the younger children.

Work has been done to promote the new free meals through school newsletters over the past year, and a survey of parents shows the take up is expected to be high among pupils at the school.

Mrs Thompson added: "We believe that this scheme will further improve the uptake of our high quality meals. This national scheme will be beneficial for all families, but especially those who have been just above the threshold for free school meals in the past.

"We think it would be wonderful to see this scheme extended to all primary age children in the future. However we appreciate that this could create challenges in some settings where kitchen facilities are restricted. We are fortunate to have the capacity in the kitchen to be able to cater for these numbers and would welcome the opportunity to be able to provide free school meals for all children."

The Government is providing the funding to schools in England to provide every child in reception and years one and two with a nutritious meal at lunch time.

Councillor Ralph Berry, the Council's executive member with responsibility for schools, said: "A huge amount of effort has been put in to make this work by the schools. What we are doing on the ground is trying to make it work as best we can.

"It will ensure a significant number of children receive improved nutrition."

However he added: "I would like to see a national scheme for the whole of primary age."