Free school meals roll out across Vale of Glamorgan

A COUNCILLOR has expressed her relief that all primary school children in the Vale of Glamorgan are now receiving free meals.

The Vale of Glamorgan Council’s cabinet member for education, arts and the Welsh language, Concillor Rhiannon Birch said the thought of children going to school hungry before free meals were rolled out was “absolutely terrible”.

Delivery of the free school meals scheme, which was rolled out to primary schools in the Vale of Glamorgan as of Monday April 24, is being done in partnership with the council’s Big Fresh Catering Company.

“I can tell you that as a retired teacher, I used to see children coming into school who had not eaten breakfast and had possibly the absolute bare minimum amount of money for lunch,” said Cllr Birch, who was at Barry Island Primary School this week to see the roll out of free meals in action.

“So knowing that children will be able to have a free school meal, and obviously a lot of these schools run breakfast clubs as well, means you have got children coming into school who are ready to learn and are not worrying about where the next meal is coming from.”

The headteacher of Barry Island Primary School, Matthew Gilbert, said they periodically had cases of children coming into school hungry before the free school meals roll out.

He said: “We liaise and work with families, it can oscillate from time to time.”

However, Mr Gilbert added that the school also has a breakfast club which offers cereal, toast, drinks and a “nice little social occasion to begin school” with.

He added: “If a family or pupil was struggling we would encourage them to come to breakfast club.”

Mr Gilbert said it was “definitely” a relief to see the roll out of free school meals at the school, adding: “I think to effectively educate children they have got to be happy and healthy, confident individuals. With the cost of living, there was always a concern.”

On how it made her feel to hear about children coming to school hungry, Cllr Birch said: “It is absolutely terrible isn’t it. They are not able to learn, they are not able to make progress because they are hungry.

“Particularly with the economic crisis that we are living in, there are children whose parents cannot and in some cases are unable to put that in place for their child and it just makes such a tremendous difference.”

The Vale of Glamorgan is slightly ahead of the curve in terms of its roll out of free meals at primary schools.

Phase two of Welsh Government’s Universal Primary Free School Meal (UPFSM) rollout intended for all pupils from Year 3 to Year 6 to be given a free school meal by April next year.

Cllr Birch added: “We have had interest from other councils who are looking at the way that we do things and are possibly even thinking about using Big Fresh.

“I can tell you that I am here today in Barry Island Primary School playground and they have a German television station filming what is going on here because they are so impressed with it.”

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