Alison Johnstone, MSP for Lothian and a member of Holyrood’s economy committee, is calling on the Scottish Government to fund new school kitchens and dining rooms to ensure a successful roll-out of free school meals.
Using Freedom of Information requests Ms Johnstone has discovered that many school dining facilities are already at capacity, and many schools have no kitchens in which to prepare fresh food. For example, half of schools in East Lothian could not accommodate more pupils for lunch, while Aberdeenshire has 57 primary schools with no kitchen.
The research also reveals 10,000 people are directly employed in schools catering.
In answer to a parliamentary question, the schools minister has confirmed that the Scottish Government has begun discussions with local authorities about the practicalities of rolling out free school meals for P1-3.
Alison Johnstone said:
“I fully support free school meals for primary pupils but this research supports my longstanding concerns about school buildings. The Scottish Government and local authorities have neglected too many schools, while new buildings have been designed without proper food preparation facilities.
“I urge ministers to make their discussions with local authorities a priority so the necessary funding can be found to build kitchens and extend dining rooms or find alternative solutions. I also think we should seize the opportunity to make local, freshly-prepared food the norm in our schools, as this would be so much better for our children, our economy and the skills of our undervalued catering staff.”
Examples of responses by local authorities to the Green MSP’s Freedom of Information requests on school kitchens and dining room capacity:
Aberdeenshire, which says it has a high meal uptake in primary schools, has 57 primary schools with no kitchens.
In Argyll and Bute thirteen schools serve food prepared elsewhere.
Clackmannanshire, which uses what it calls a “cook-freeze” system, says all its dining facilities are at capacity.
In Dumfries and Galloway 34 schools do not have functioning kitchens.
Dundee city council says it would be unable to accommodate an increase in pupil numbers in some school dining halls unless the service time was extended to over an hour or a secondary service point was introduced.
East Lothian council says 12 of its schools have no food preparation area, and 19 of its 41 school dining areas could not accommodate more pupils for lunch.
Highland council says it does not know whether its school dining facilities are at capacity.
Renfrewshire says its facilities could accommodate a further 10% of pupils, and it notes that some of its schools have three lunch sittings.
West Dunbartonshire has six schools where space does not permit a production kitchen.
Parliamentary Question lodged by Alison Johnstone:
To ask the Scottish Government what support is available to schools to improve kitchen facilities and expand dining facilities.
Dr Alasdair Allan MSP:
The Scottish Government are in early discussions with CoSLA around the implementation of free school meals for all children in P1 P3 from January 2015 and will work with local authorities around the practicalities, drawing on the experience of the free school meal trial which ran over 2007-08. Evaluation of the trial showed that implementation went more smoothly than anticipated and that local authorities and schools generated a number of successful strategies to address the challenges faced.