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'Not poor enough' for free school meals

PUBLISHED: 15:05 02 January 2009 | UPDATED: 12:41 03 July 2010

NORFOLK pupils will not benefit from a pilot scheme offering free school meals to all primary school children because the county is not deprived enough and taking part would cost too much, councillors will hear next week.

NORFOLK pupils will not benefit from a pilot scheme offering free school meals to all primary school children because the county is not deprived enough and taking part would cost too much, councillors will hear next week.

Council officers have examined the possibility of applying to participate in the government-funded programme, but concluded it was not feasible.

The scheme was announced in September by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). Three local authorities in areas of high social deprivation were to be invited to take part in the two-year programme, sharing £20m in funding from the DCSF and Department of Health.

In November, Norfolk County Council agreed to seek pilot status for specified areas within the county that met the government's criteria.

It also agreed to “look to further enhance” the successful work of the county's Healthy Schools Team regarding nutrition information and education within primary schools and sourcing foods locally where possible.

Officers were asked to investigate and looked at reports of similar projects in Hull, Scotland, Norway and Sweden.

They found there was “clear evidence” of the positive impact of eating a hot, healthy meal during the day on children's health and development.

They made contact with the DCSF but were told it was unlikely Norfolk would meet the scheme's social deprivation criteria.

“It also became clear that central government funding would only cover about 50pc of the costs and it was felt that we would be unable to commit to several million pounds of investment into this pilot project at this stage,” they wrote.

Officers calculated that giving all the county's 63,000 primary school children a free meal each day would cost about £20m a year.

“It is unlikely that without significant government financial support the free school meals entitlement can be extended,” they concluded.


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