Plans to provide children with free meals in Portsmouth under way

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Jean Everitt from Friends of the Earth, Cllr Trevor Cartwright, Cllr Rob Humby, Cllr Graham Burgess, Jean MacGrory from Hampshire County Council with Callum Manson, Thomas Houghton and Skye Maccoll from Rowner Junior School. Picture: David George

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PLANS to provide free meals to every child in Portsmouth state infant schools have taken a step forward.

The city council’s cabinet agreed yesterday to spend £367,265 of government money upgrading school kitchens so the scheme can get under way in September.

The aim of the initiative is to improve academic success as it’s been found that youngsters perform better once they’ve had a decent meal.

Families are expected to save £437 a year on lunches.

It comes after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced in September that money would be available so every child in the country based in reception, year one and year two – aged from four to seven – will get a free meal.

The number of school meals provided each day for this age group in Portsmouth will rise from 2,242 to 5,307, bringing the total number of dinners provided across the board to 8,365, an increase of 58 per cent.

Julian Wooster, the council’s director of children’s and adults’ services, said: ‘We are ahead of the game here in Portsmouth because we were aware this was happening, and because of the size of our city we can do this quickly.

‘We have got great plans and I am confident we will be in a great place come September.’

To cope with the increase in demand, lunchtimes could be extended and neighbouring infant and junior schools could work together.

Children who eat a packed lunch in their school’s dining space would go elsewhere.

The government is making £150m of capital available for councils to make the scheme happen, and Portsmouth has been given £488,985 of that budget.

A week trial will be held in July so the council and ISS, its school meals provider, can test the new arrangements. Northern Parade Infant and Junior Schools has a different provider and will be allocated £6,000 of the capital budget.

Councillor Rob Wood, cabinet member for children and education, said: ‘Clearly, parents lead very busy lives. There are issues in the more deprived areas, and this is the one area where children will be able to have a proper, hot meal.’

In pilot areas it was found that two per cent more key stage one children reached target levels in Maths and English.