Just one authority to dish up Government's free meals pledge

2nd April 2010 at 01:00
West Dunbartonshire is the only local council to serve all P1-3 pupils, while provision across Scotland varies massively, TESS survey shows

Whether or not P1-3 pupils receive a free school meal this August will depend entirely on where they live.

A TESS survey has revealed that only one council - West Dunbartonshire - will be serving free meals to all P1-3 pupils in line with the Scottish Government's election pledge.

The authority was one of five councils to take part in the Scottish Government's six-month pilot to assess whether free school meals in early primary would be viable.

The trial - which began in October 2007 - was ultimately declared a success and plans for a national roll-out were announced in 2008.

West Dunbartonshire introduced the free meals a year ahead of schedule. It wanted to influence "how families are fed" and "help tackle Scotland's problems with obesity", education convener May Smillie said.

The TESS survey has revealed, however, that other councils do not share SNP-led West Dunbartonshire's enthusiasm - particularly in the current economic climate.

Ten councils have no plans to extend free meals in any way. A further 10 intend to provide a free lunch to some pupils, usually those attending schools in deprived communities, and seven will serve a free breakfast. Four have no concrete plans.

John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland said the findings would be "a bitter blow to tens of thousands of families".

The Scottish Government first introduced flexibility over the delivery of free school meals last year to create resources for councils to speed up class-size reductions. It suggested councils could prioritise free school meals for children in the 20 per cent most deprived areas.

Some authorities, however, have interpreted this suggestion as a target and they argue they have already hit it.

Edinburgh City Council claimed the free school meals it provides reach 20.15 per cent of P1-3 pupils. It was, therefore, "exceeding the government target", a spokesman said. It would not be implementing "any wider provision during 2010-11", he added.

Glasgow City Council also said it would not be extending provision of free meals next year.

The council provided on average 6,665 free breakfasts per day and already exceeded the 20 per cent target for lunches, it claimed.

A spokeswoman said: "Glasgow has the highest levels of deprivation and if we were only to target 20 per cent, then this would be a reduction in what we are currently doing."

By not expanding entitlement to free meals, Shetland Islands Council argued it would be able to continue to deliver free fruit to all primary children and to offer free milk, juice and bread at lunchtime.

The other authorities opting not to serve up more free meals - Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, Fife, Highland, Midlothian, North Lanarkshire and Orkney - said the policy was simply unaffordable.

Leslie Manson, director of education in Orkney and president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said: "Any youngsters with a statutory entitlement oblige us to find the money and we will do, but we don't have the money to provide free school meals on a discretionary basis."

In authorities where progress is being made, what is on offer varies wildly. In Dundee, come August, all primary pupils will have access to breakfast clubs. In East Renfrewshire, free breakfasts will also be introduced, but only for P1-3 pupils in five primary schools, chosen because they serve deprived areas.

Meanwhile, East Dunbartonshire will supply free lunches for P1-3 pupils in 11 primaries; Moray will do the same in five schools; Renfrewshire in 16. However, in Dumfries and Galloway, the Western Isles and East Ayrshire P1 pupils alone will be entitled to a free lunch.

emma.seith@tes.co.uk

WHAT'S ON THE MENU AT SCOTLAND'S COUNCILS?

ABERDEEN - Breakfast for all pupils in the 10 primaries serving the most deprived areas

ABERDEENSHIRE - No extension of free meals planned

ANGUS - Free school meals plans as yet undecided

ARGYLL AND BUTE - No extension planned

CLACKMANNANSHIRE - Lunch for P1-3 pupils in five or six schools serving the most deprived areas

DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY - Lunch for all P1 pupils

DUNDEE - Breakfast clubs to be extended to all pupils in all primaries

EAST AYRSHIRE - Lunch for all P1 pupils

EAST DUNBARTONSHIRE - Lunch for P1-3 pupils in the 11 primaries serving the most deprived areas

EAST LOTHIAN - Lunch for P1-3 pupils in five primary schools in Prestonpans and Tranent

EAST RENFREWSHIRE - Breakfast for all P1-3 pupils in the five schools serving the most deprived areas

EDINBURGH - No extension planned

FALKIRK - Undecided

FIFE - No extension planned

GLASGOW - No extension planned

HIGHLAND - No extension planned

INVERCLYDE - Breakfast for all pupils in seven schools with high deprivation levels

MIDLOTHIAN - No extension planned

MORAY - Lunch for P1-3 pupils in five primaries serving the most deprived areas

NORTH AYRSHIRE - Breakfast. Plans to introduce healthy start clubs in specific schools for all pupils, number of schools not known

NORTH LANARKSHIRE - No extension planned

ORKNEY - No extension planned

PERTH AND KINROSS - Breakfast for P1-3 pupils in the 16 primaries serving the most deprived communities

RENFREWSHIRE - Lunch for P1-3 pupils in the 16 primaries serving the most deprived communities

SCOTTISH BORDERS - Lunch for P1-3 pupils in the 13 primary schools serving the most deprived communities

SHETLAND - No extension planned

SOUTH AYRSHIRE - Undecided

SOUTH LANARKSHIRE - Undecided

STIRLING - Lunch for P1 children in the eight primaries serving the most deprived areas

WEST DUNBARTONSHIRE - Lunch for all P1-3 children in all schools

WEST LOTHIAN - Breakfast for P1-3 children in the 24 schools serving the most deprived areas

WESTERN ISLES - Lunch for P1 in August then P2 the following year and P3 the next.

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