School meals price rises leave bitter taste

Leaders forced to swallow extra costs or pass the increase on to parents

Leaders forced to swallow extra costs or pass the increase on to parents

22 Oct 2022, 5:00

Councils are increasing the prices of school meals as the cost of food, energy and wages for catering staff continues to rise.

Some schools have been forced to swallow the extra costs from their own budgets or pass the increase on to parents.

The rises come as the County Councils Network warns that local authorities will face “a winter of difficult decisions” as they set their budgets for the next financial year.

Cuts to school support services and home-to-school transport are among the services that could be affected.

Derbyshire County Council has approved a 10p increase in the price of a primary school meal this term, pushing up the cost of school meals by 4.5 per cent for 352 schools in the area.

The council told Schools Week it did not subsidise the cost of its catering service and would not be offering any additional support to schools to cover the rise.

“The increase is, of course, a decision we’ve made reluctantly,” said the council’s education councillor, Alex Dale. “But I am more reluctant to compromise on the size and quality of our children’s meals.”

Hampshire County Council’s school meal provider, HC3S, will also increase prices by 20p a day from October 31 for 440 schools.

To help schools cope with these costs, the council said it was awarding schools nearly £1.6 million in discretionary grants from the Household Support Fund.

Council ‘subsidising’ school meals

Councillor Roz Chadd said: “The decision to increase the price of a school meal is regrettable, but unavoidable, and reflects the continuing increase in food, energy and other costs nationally, with which government funding has not kept pace. 

“Our focus now is on doing all that we can to bolster our support for vulnerable families over the challenging winter period and ensure that schools are adequately equipped to cover these additional costs.”

Stoke-on-Trent City Council also looks set to increase its charges for school meal catering and school crossing patrols, although the council said it was “limiting” and “subsidising” these increases to protect school budgets.

Many schools are already struggling to find the money to pay for school meals for their most vulnerable pupils.

Latest estimates from the National Education Union reveal the Department for Education is currently underfunding free school meals by £395 million a year.

Last week, the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver backed the Feed the Future campaign for free school meals to be extended to about 800,000 more children in households on universal credit.

School and education leaders representing more than one million teachers, support staff and others working with children have this week backed the calls.

Organisations include education unions, the Confederation of School Trusts and the National Governance Association.

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