Kitchen capacity and cost issues could water down ambitions to deliver free school meals for all primary school children in Warwickshire.
A recommendation made by Dr Shade Agboola, Warwickshire’s director of public health, as part of her annual report back in March was to “explore the feasibility” of a rolling out a county-wide programme “as research shows that children are able to learn better in school if they have a full stomach”.
The statement was picked up at this week’s meeting of the county’s Health and Wellbeing Board by Councillor John Holland (Lab, Warwick West) with Dr Agboola acknowledging “we might end up with just free breakfast clubs”.
“The board was to come up with a feasible scheme, “ said Cllr Holland. “Obviously, it was needed by the start of the school year, which is now – has it been done?”
Councillor Margaret Bell (Con, Hartshill & Mancetter), chair of the board and the county’s portfolio holder for adult social care and health, said work had got underway but that there would be no quick fix.
“While we are responsible for monitoring the recommendations of the public health report, some of the things are not within our power – indeed, schools do not come under this committee, although we have been active in looking at how it can be done,” she said.
“I know that one of the schools in my area has been approached to set up a pilot in this area. It is very complex, it is not straightforward and I am not even talking about the funding which is in itself an issue.
“There are issues about whether the schools have the capability, the physical space to do some of the things we would like to see happen.
“This is not something you can wave a wand at and do overnight, it takes a lot of thought and certainly some piloting.”
Dr Agboola added: “The recommendation was worded really carefully because we do have to understand some of the challenges inherent in providing free school meals for all primary school children.
“We asked partners to explore the feasibility.
"A lot of work is currently happening, we have pulled together a task and finish group to look into whether this is going to be feasible, how much it is going to cost, challenges about whether or not school kitchens are equipped to cater for all primary school children from years one to six.
“We will look at that and come up with some recommendations on what we can potentially do.
"Nothing is off the table, we might end up with just free breakfast clubs for all primary school children, but it was a recommendation that asked partners to explore the feasibility and that is what we are doing.”