School meal shake up is on the menu

Jeanette Orrey MBE visiting Osgodby Primary School EMN-140205-130654001
Jeanette Orrey MBE visiting Osgodby Primary School EMN-140205-130654001

Concerns over the introduction of free hot school meals for all infant pupils has prompted a visit by an award-winning former dinner lady.

Jeanette Orrey MBE, who came to prominence after working with Jamie Oliver, visited Osgodby School last week to see first hand the challenges faced by small schools when it comes to lunchtimes.

From this September, schools must offer all reception, year one and year two pupils a hot lunch under the Universal Free School Meal scheme.

And the invitation to visit came from headteacher Mrs Fincham following a meeting she had attended, where Mrs Orrey had criticised the negative attitudes to the scheme

“Because we don’t have a school hall, the classrooms are converted into dining areas,” said Mrs Fincham.

“I have not just asked Jeanette to come here for us, but for other schools in the same situation.

“She has hopefully gone away seeing the bigger picture.”

Mrs Orrey spent time speaking to Mrs Fincham and the school’s meals provider, Judith Looker, offering advice on ways to help overcome some of the issues.

“Some people see school dinners as a necessary evil, but we see it as an important part of the school day teaching the children to eat healthily,” said Mrs Looker.

“We are ready to face the challenges ahead, but one thing we won’t compromise on is the quality of our meals.”

And while space may be an issue for the smaller schools, larger schools will face other issues.

Welton St Mary’s Primary School has around 400 pupils and headteacher Nicola Gough said their biggest challenge will be making sure everyone gets through during the lunch period.

“We have had to rethink how we manage lunchtime and there will also be a staffing impact with 120 children under seven to provide hot school meals for.

“We are looking at buddying up older children with younger children and splitting lunchtime.

“But we don’t think it will be a major concern for us and believe it will impact on us positively.”

There will be one off payments available through the government scheme to help small schools buy the extra equipment needed to deliver the meals service.

Richard Cumbers, Children’s Health Programme Manager for Lincolnshire County Council, said: “Delivering this offer is proving a challenge for many local authorities including Lincolnshire; we are working closely with all schools and catering providers to ensure that any shortfalls in provision or logistical issues are being addressed.”