Hot school meals end today

TODAYis the end of hot school meals for many pupils in Essex as the county council-run dinner service comes to an end.Essex County Council told schools in December it was going to scrap its school meals service as the cost of dinners were predicted to rise by £2-£3 million from this month.

TODAYis the end of hot school meals for many pupils in Essex as the county council-run dinner service comes to an end.

Essex County Council told schools in December it was going to scrap its school meals service as the cost of dinners were predicted to rise by £2-£3 million from this month.

The 360 schools which used the county council school meals service were given three months to organise their own lunches in time for the start of the summer term.

A survey conducted by the EADT yesterdayamong 77 of the affected primary schools in north Essex, found 32 will run an in-house school meals service. Some will run a service in conjunction with other schools, 26 have signed a contract with current caterers Scolarest. Fifteen will close their kitchens todayand provide a sandwiches-only service - including St George's junior school, Colchester - and four have found alternative caterers for hot meals.


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The decision to end the county council meals service angered headteachers and governors who were worried time and money from slim budgets would be diverted away from children's education to catering.

Jean Quinn, of Colchester and North East Essex National Union of Teachers said there had not been enough consultation before the decision was taken and the responsibility for catering was too much extra work for heads.

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Robert Emuss, president of the National Primary Schools Association, and headteacher of Coppins Green School, Clacton, said: “I feel the speed with which the decision has been made was unreasonable. I felt there wasn't any consultation in the true sense of the word.

“An awful lot of heads will have stayed with the county council service because there's enough to do to run a school without worrying about school meals. Suddenly now they're in the position with no real support and no experience at all and have had to start from scratch.”

But some heads have been able to turn the decision into a new opportunity.

Stanway primary school, Colchester, is starting its own in-house catering service and orders for school meals are up for next term despite prices increasing by 10p to £1.50.

Headteacher Brian Combessaid: “It's been a lot of work. We made the decision although this is not where we wanted to start from it's a real opportunity to improve the food the children were getting.”

Parson's Heath primary school, Colchester, is also switching to an in-house hot meals service, joining forces with some of the 16 schools in the North Essex Network consortium.

The consortium has used Tricon catering consultants to help set up the service which will be run by a catering manager due to be appointed imminently. The price for meals has been set at £1.50.

Headteacher Sheena Clover said: “It was still far too short a time, but for us we are trying to make it into an opportunity to do something good for the children.”

Iris Pummell, Essex County Council education cabinet member said: “I wish this had never happened. It's one of those things that do come up and we have to deal with in the best way we can.”

nA dispute between Scolarest and Essex County Council about who should pay the redundancy settlements of those school cooks who are losing their jobs is still unresolved.

Across the county 75 schools are closing their kitchens, with about 200 school cooks losing their jobs as a result. Scolarest say the county council is responsible for their redundancy settlements but the county council say it is up to Scolarest.

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