SCHOOLS lunch breaks would have to take place over three hours a day to meet the needs of the Government’s free school meals programme, it has been claimed.

From September state-funded primary schools across the country are being asked to provide a free hot lunch to all five to seven year-olds.

Announcing the scheme at the Lib Dem conference in September, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the initiative would save struggling families £437 for each child per year, as well as having educational and health benefits.

But Oxfordshire County Councillor Melinda Tilley has questioned where the money is going to come from to pay for the initiative.

The Oxford Times:

County cabinet member for education Melinda Tilley

She says there are 35 schools – about one in eight – in the county that don’t have any kitchen facilities with many more without adequate facilities to provide Mr Clegg’s vision of free lunches. Nationally there are 2,700 schools that will have to improve facilities.

The Government will give Oxfordshire £1.47m for the scheme, but Mrs Tilley says it would need at least £5m for it to be rolled out properly.

Department for Education (DfE) spokesman Rob Cooper said Oxfordshire County Council – which needs to make £64m savings over four years – was given an extra £9.8m for its Basic Needs Budget which could be used to make improvements. He also said schools which are unable to offer hot meals should work to find a way to offer them “as soon as possible”.

Mrs Tilley added: “I think the Government has back-pedalled on the hot meals front and said we can provide packed lunches.

“I suppose that’s what we are going to have to do; deliver packed lunches. We don’t have any other money available.

“The money we have is desperately needed for school maintenance.

“ I would have to ask Harry Potter if I can borrow his magic wand to do what the Government wants. We will have to ask them for more money.

“I wish the Government wouldn’t make these policies on the hoof and expect us to deliver them without any money.”

Lynn Knapp, left, headteacher at Windmill Primary School in Headington, said that to be able to feed the 270 pupils in Year 1 and 2, plus a number of the 240 Year 3-6 pupils who already receive school meals, it could mean lunches would have to start 11am and go on until 2pm.

Currently lunch is served between 11.45am and 1.20pm, and Mrs Knapp believes the change would cut into lessons.

She added: “The policy is a knee-jerk reaction that has been pushed through. To be able to put this into process won’t measure up to what the Government wants, just like we see time and time again.”

Oxford West and Abingdon prospective parliamentary candidate for the Lib Dems, Layla Moran, a teacher, disagreed with Mrs Tilley. She said: “My message to her is that she needs to get creative. There is a really good educational reason why we need to do this and she needs to stop complaining about it and get on with it.”