Bye-bye, hungry holidays

15th July 2005 at 01:00
East Renfrewshire has become the first authority to offer primary children free meals during the school holidays.

The impetus for the pilot project was an incident last summer when a boy was caught stealing a sandwich from a shop because he was hungry and his mother could not afford to feed the family.

The social work department approached the education directorate - and the pilot project now running at Barrhead High for the summer holidays was set up as a direct response.

The project, which is costing around pound;110,000 over the summer (Pounds 50,000 of which comes from the Scottish Executive's community regeneration fund), is being run as a holiday camp to which all 200 primary pupils entitled to free school meals were invited.

Uptake so far has been around 60 per cent - around the level anticipated by the authority.

Mhairi Shaw, acting head of service for curriculum and policy development, said: "Although children like this were fed during school time, some were then in dire straits at a time when nothing is coming into the family. We felt we had to find a way to support them."

Mrs Shaw added: "There is this misconception that East Renfrewshire is just leafy suburbs." But the authority's figures show that the average percentage of primary children entitled to a footwear and clothing grant is 15 per cent, while the figure for free meal entitlement is 9 per cent.

Within the primary sector last year, schools ranged from 1.4 per cent entitlement to 69 per cent. The average national figure for entitlement in primary schools was 20.6 per cent.

The project, devised to a large extent by Jill Carrick, the council's quality improvement officer responsible for the arts and culture, is split into morning and afternoon sessions. In the morning, children have cereal and toast, followed by sport, dance, music and arts and crafts activities.

They then receive lunch.

Those coming for the afternoon receive lunch and have a healthy snack before they leave.

Catering staff provide the food, while adults taking the activities include the council's sports co-ordinators, members of the MACCS (music, arts, culture, creativity and sports) unit, local artists and teachers who have just completed their probationary year.

Activities have international themes, ranging from the sport and dance of South Africa to Greece, India, Australia, Brazil and Japan. Catering staff include recipes from these countries. On the day The TES Scotland visited, one of the options was a South African curry called "beef bobotie".

"Some of the parents have phoned and said they have seen a difference in their child," Mrs Shaw said. "Some said it was time the council did something about this anyway, and some were just positive about their children being involved in an activities programme that they probably would not experience around the summer."

Children have also taken part in healthy eating activities, such as making fruit skewers and soup. "There has been a bit of the Jamie Oliver about it," Mrs Shaw said. "The kids have been more positive about eating these things."

The project will have to be evaluated, but the education department hopes to offer the same kind of provision in October, over the Christmas holidays and at Easter. It may also try to extend the scheme to pre-five children and those up to S2.

"This is also about closing the gap - making sure that these children feel good about themselves and helping them to feel more motivated," Mrs Shaw said.

According to Alan Henry, aged 10, it's "funner" than the holidays usually are "because you get to spend more time with friends". He wasn't too keen on the food because it was "too healthy", but did say he would be back.

Ewan Aitken, education spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said: "I would encourage other authorities to pick up this scheme. One of the biggest problems for families in poverty is the summer holidays and that is one of the reasons I argued for changing the length of them."

Leader 18

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