Universal free school meals having positive impact at Enfield’s schools

The borough’s schools are reported to have adapted to the logistical challenge of providing twice as many hot meals “very well”, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

School meals (credit Obi @pixel8propix via Unsplash)
School meals (credit Obi @pixel8propix via Unsplash)

Enfield Council has seen a “welcome” uptake in children eating hot meals with numbers doubling in some schools under the universal free school meals scheme rolled out by City Hall this year.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan launched the £135million scheme in September, providing free hot meals for children across all London primary schools for the duration of the current school year. 

Enfield will receive £5.5m, delivered in tranches throughout the year, to distribute to the borough’s primary schools.

Despite “considerable logistical concerns” schools in the borough reportedly adapted to the changes “very well” and headteachers in Enfield got on with the implementation with “little fuss”. 

A request for feedback on the scheme was sent out by Enfield Council’s director of education Peter Nathan, with 15 schools that responded all welcoming the scheme and reporting an uptake in children eating a hot meal at lunchtimes.

In one school, children having a hot meal doubled from 300 a day to 600, in a another the percentage increased from 60% to 90% of pupils per day, and in another it increased from 63% to 81%. 

The council report stated: “It is expected the numbers will rise further with the onset of winter with some children moving away from packed lunches. It is intended to carry out a full survey with the support of the mayor’s office later in the academic year to get a more detailed picture of uptake.”

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Speaking at a children and young people scrutiny panel on Monday 18th, Peter said despite the positive feedback there were some concerns primarily around cost issues. 

He spoke about cutlery, saying: “If you double the number of children having meals there’s a cost issue there.”

Other issues he raised included the timing of lunch breaks ranging from 11.30am to 1.30pm, raising concern some children may not have their first meal of the day until the afternoon. 

Peter also mentioned inadequate space in dinner halls to accommodate the increase in numbers eating. 

Despite the concerns he said feedback was generally positive.

“There’s no capital funding to enhance kitchens but schools are managing anyway, it’s caused some issues, but it’s about getting used to it,” he said. 

Peter ended with his concern for the future of the scheme, as there is no confirmation from the mayor that the programme will be repeated and expectations are now “raised” following this year’s success. 

He said: “It’s gone well, the main concern is what’s going to happen next year, what’s happened is expectations have been raised. Where will the funding come from if this is going to continue, will it come from the mayor’s office or government?”

He said to offset this concern it would be a “great benefit” if schools knew as early as possible what plans were for the future of the scheme.

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