Free school milk could be axed

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Thousands of youngsters will lose out if a third of county schools press ahead with plans to stop providing milk to infant pupils.

Others say they are being forced to hike up the cost of the break-time nutritional drink or dig into their own coffers after Lancashire County Council decided to scrap the service.

Lancashire is one of the few remaining authorities still offering school milk - free for under fives and those on free dinners. Parents of five to seven-year-olds currently pay £6 a term to help cover the cost.

The county council has acted for schools in securing contracts for school supplies and delivery of milk, with staff handling the administration and collecting grants and subsidies. This year the overall bill topped £1m.

Of this, about a third is reclaimed in grants from government, a third comes from parental contributions, and the rest is met by the county to subsidise the parental contribution and allow free milk for under-fives and those on free school meals.

Government changes to school funding mean schools now have to source their own supplies and claim back subsidies. For some, the paperwork is a step too far.

They say they don’t have the resources to deal with the administration and have told parents there won’t be any more milk.

Others say they are being forced to more than double the cost to parents.

John Ross, head teacher of Great Wood primary school in Morecambe, said local schools were working together to find a dairy offering a better deal for parents and pupils.

Mr Ross said: “The health benefits of milk for young children are well known.

“This change will lead to milk provision being cut and increased prices for parents.

“Local head teachers are working together to minimise the impact on families and children. I appreciate the local authority have had to make difficult decisions.”

The National Association of Headteachers said the county council could have continued to administer the service on behalf of schools. Lancashire secretary and former head teacher Tony Roberts said:“Inevitably the kids who will lose out will be those who need it most.”

Mike Hart, Lancashire County Council’s director for school resources, said: “Arrangements for subsidising school milk have changed, as the Government now requires us to give the funding directly to schools. For Lancashire, this comes to £351,000, and from April this will be shared out among primary schools on a per-pupil basis.”