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School meals cash could be wasted

15 December 2005
School meals cash could be wasted

Head teachers could squander the Government's £220m school meals hand-out because there is no official guidance on how to spend it, industry sources have warned.

Gary Stewart, director of Catering Management Consultants, claims the money has been rushed to schools as a political gesture before the School Food Trust can advise head teachers on how to target the cash. The trust met for the first time last week and will not start operating until April 2006.

"The Government put the cart before the horse. The trust is supposed to offer practical support to teachers and parents, but it hasn't even got a website yet," said Stewart.

He added that schools could waste the money unless more information was made available before next April. "Some schools are uncertain about the best new kit to invest in. And, in terms of training, there are plenty of one-day courses that cost £250 per person where the information in the course manual is already available on the internet," he said.

Consultant Julian Edwards, director of Tenet Education Services, believes the broad scope of the 35 recommendations provided by the trust's forerunner, the School Meals Review Panel, further clouds the picture. "The advice is very vague, and schools don't know whether to spend the money on training, kitchen equipment, food or marketing," he said.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills rejected the suggestion that cash had been handed out prematurely. "It was important that resources were made available as quickly as possible. This is the first stage in a three-year programme and there is no rush. Schools and local authorities must also look at the best ways to spend the money," he said.

But some schools believe the Government has done little more than throw money at the problem. Ron Henderson, headmaster of Walmsley Junior School in Birmingham, said: "It's all been done on the hoof, with very little attention to the finer details. I do wonder where the £15m used to set up the School Food Trust was spent."

Henderson added that the money was too little to have any serious impact. "After all the razzmatazz, the £1,300 we are due is hardly going to change the world."

By Tom Bill

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