BRADFORD'S schools should be able to cope with providing an extra 7,250 school meals a day when the new term starts next month, but the man in charge of education at the Council admits it has been a struggle.
A new Government initiative means that when reception and year one children begin school after the holidays they will have free school lunches, and locally that means schools will have to provide thousands of extra free meals every day.
Although the Government is funding the policy at a rate of £2.30 per meal, many schools have had to delve into their savings to meet the costs to upgrade school kitchens and provide enough equipment to meet the increased number of servings.
Primary school children currently only get free school meals if their family receives benefits or tax credits.
The Government has made £1.35m available to help upgrades in the district, although these same upgrades were expected to cost the Council up to £2.5 million. Cllr Ralph Berry, executive member for children's services at the Council, said finding enough money to prepare for the new policy required "a huge amount of creativity."
Schools in the district were invited to bid for a piece of the Government pot, with 40 gaining funding and 19 denied funding after it was decided they had enough cash in their reserves. A further 12 voluntary aided schools shared a pot of £250,000 for upgrades.
Ten schools required construction or remodelling works to bring kitchens up to a good enough standard to prepare the extra meals. The Council is aiming to complete the works before schools start in September, but said there were contingency plans if works did overrun.
Cllr Berry said: "It looks like we are going to deliver this on time, but it has taken a huge amount of creativity and flexibility. It has been a huge struggle. It was a lot of effort to take what was a back of the fag packet idea by the Government and sort things out in time. I agree with people who say this has been rushed, but we have to focus on the best interest of our pupils."
Helen Thompson is head of Haworth Primary School, one of the schools that is getting its kitchen re-fitted to be able to provide the extra free meals. She said: "We are getting a new cook line put in, and equipment is being moved around, we've got new extraction equipment being installed. The work was part funded by the Council and the rest is coming from our capital budget over the next couple of years.
"I think this is definitely a good idea, it really does benefit the families of children."