HC Deb 26 October 2000 vol 355 cc367-8
2. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

What guidelines he issues on the proportion of children at a comprehensive school who should be able to sit down for school dinner within the allocated lunchtime break. [132586]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith)

The Government recognise the importance of an enjoyable and well-balanced school meal, and that is why we are introducing minimum nutritional standards for school lunches—the first for 20 years. However, it is for schools to decide how to organise the delivery of lunches to pupils who want them, so we have issued no guidelines on how many children should be served in the lunch break.

Mr. Jack

I thank the Minister for that answer. I think that her Department is aware that the Lytham St. Anne's high technology college in my constituency, the largest comprehensive in Lancashire, is daily turned into what I can only describe as a culinary battleground, as there are seats for only one sixth of the 1,800 or so children to have a school dinner. The remainder who want to find a place to eat their sandwiches are scattered to the four winds in the rest of the site. That is unacceptable. The head and other senior staff members have to give up their dinner hour to supervise the maelstrom. Will the Minister be kind enough—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have appealed for brief answers, and I also expect brief questions.

Mr. Jack

The question will be brief, Mr. Speaker.

Will the Minister be kind enough to get one of her officials to visit the school and see the chaos, and then have discussions with Lancashire county council to find a lasting solution to the problem?

Jacqui Smith

I note that the right hon. Gentleman has taken a close interest in this problem. I understand that, despite the fact that the school has received more than £1 million to expand and more than £700,000 because its specialist status, the problem remains. Perhaps I can make some positive suggestions. The Government have already supported lunch facility improvements at 117 schools, through all phases of the new deal for schools. I do not believe that Lancashire applied for funding through that scheme. The expansion of direct capital funds for heads to spend—this year, for example, Lytham St. Anne's high school has had just over £30,000 from those funds—may prove a way forward.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced that the funding will increase by two and a half times by 2003–04 and can be rolled over from year to year to fund larger projects. The seed challenge capital process, which we have also extended to more schools—under which a contribution can be matched from funds from outside the school—may also be a way forward. Given the right hon. Gentleman's persistence, I am willing to ask one of my officials to visit the school to investigate the problem.

Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands)

The introduction of nutritional standards for school meals is a massive step forward. What research are the Government undertaking to boost the low take-up of free school meals? Will my hon. Friend applaud the hugely popular initiative by Squirrel Hayes first school in Biddulph, which has introduced a free breakfast service, which means that pupils are in on time and ready to start the day and learn appropriately?

Jacqui Smith

My hon. Friend makes an important point and I commend the activities of that school in her constituency, which is one of very many schools being given the support that is provided through Education Extra and our partners, Kellogg's, to develop breakfast clubs. I agree that we also need to ensure that those children who are eligible for free school meals take them up. That is why the Department has funded the Child Poverty Action Group to carry out research into what prevents the take-up from being as full as it could be, and to come up with practical suggestions on how we can improve the situation by next spring.

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