Primary buildings not large enough for free meals

Primary schools will be required to provide free lunches to P1-3 pupils from January. Picture: Julie Howden
Primary schools will be required to provide free lunches to P1-3 pupils from January. Picture: Julie Howden
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SOME of Edinburgh’s largest primary schools do not have enough space to roll out free school meals for P1 to P3 pupils.

From January, schools will be required to provide free lunches under a flagship Scottish Government policy aimed at ensuring children ­benefit from at least one nutritious cooked meal a day.

But four overcrowded primary schools – East Craigs, Towerbank, ­Sciennes and Cramond – have insufficient space to serve up hot meals to so many pupils.

Among the temporary options being considered are staggering lunch hours so every pupil who wants a meal can be squeezed in.

Even if funding is found immediately, building the extra space needed would not be possible in time for the new year, education chiefs said.

And they failed to explain how free meals would be delivered at the four schools but said discussions about temporary ­solutions were ongoing.

But it has emerged positive talks have taken place with Holyrood over the £4.67 million cash pot needed to implement the ­policy, with £3.2m earmarked for major new dining space at East Craigs, Towerbank, Sciennes and Cramond.

Education leader Councillor Paul Godzik stressed the Scottish Government has insisted the free meals policy would be “fully funded”.

He said: “Following the negotiations, we expect that commitment to be met – we want to deliver the policy and we recognise the benefits it will bring to children.

“Scottish Government officials have visited a number of our schools but we are clear that the only viable solution is to deliver a new hall at ­Cramond and East Craigs, and substantial investment in extra space at Sciennes and Towerbank. I think there’s an understanding on their part of why the funding is required in Edinburgh.”

Frustrated parents said if building extra rooms before January proved impossible, the city would have to spell out how free meals would be delivered.

Leila Stewart, parent council member at East Craigs Primary – where a tiny dining hall has forced pupils to eat on their laps – said: “The pressure [on our school] has already been far too much. We’ve been very vocal about that. We would be looking to know what the proposals for dealing with this are. Are other parts of the curriculum, such as PE, going to be sacrificed for school dinner?

“I think parents would be much happier about putting up with something temporary if they knew they were going to get a new school hall built.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Revenue funding of £70.5m over two years has been agreed and confirmed to deliver the ­commitment. The Scottish Government is clear that ­reasonable capital costs associated with this policy are met and ­discussions on this matter are under way.”