Free school meals served up

Free school meals
Free school meals

Dinner ladies in East Dunbartonshire are in for a busy new year, dishing up thousands more free school dinners each week.

Dining halls were expected to be packed after the Scottish Government introduced free meals for all primary 1-3 children.

A range of plans are in place for the predicted surge in update, including hiring new staff, buying new equipment and increasing orders from suppliers.

Around 300 children are currently eligible for a free school meal but this figure is expected to rocket to more than 3,000 as the new initiative comes into force.

Councillor Ashay Ghai, the council’s convener of neighbourhood services, said: “While we don’t know for sure how many children will take up the offer of a free lunch, we are expecting around 80 per cent to take advantage of this.

“Children benefit greatly from a hot meal at lunchtime, as it has a positive effect both on their health and wellbeing as well as their academic performance. Our officers have planned well for the introduction so we are hoping for a smooth start to the project over the coming weeks.”

Scottish ministers say they are committed to ensuring every P1-3 pupil has the option of a free school meal and stressed thecottish Government would spend £13m on funding the scheme in 2014-15 and a further £42m in 2015-16.

The move was also welcomed by East Dunbartonshire MP Jo Swinson.

She said: “The Liberal Democrats have long advocated the benefits of a daily free and healthy meal for school pupils. Evidence clearly shows that this makes a significant difference to pupils’ learning and health. As of September 2014, over 98 per cent of schools in England were delivering a hot meal every day to all children aged 5-7.

“The SNP Government were slow on the uptake with free early years education that the Lib Dems were delivering in England and they have still failed to match what is on offer to families south of the border.

In the UK Government the Lib Dems have prioritised finding the money for free school meals, and the SNP must now ensure councils in Scotland have the support to provide meals so local schoolchildren can get the best start in life.”