Milk off the menu for Lancashire schoolchildren

Milk worries: Parents have expressed their concerns over the  withdrawal of milk at schools
Milk worries: Parents have expressed their concerns over the withdrawal of milk at schools
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Thousands of youngsters will lose out if a third of 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 stop overseeing the service.

Lancashire is one of the few remaining authorities still offering school milk - free for under fives and those on free dinners- but it is not a legal requirement.

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 LCC 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 who want them to carry on and some schools are currently consulting.

Parents at St Andrew’s CE Primary in Ashton, Preston, have been told there will be no milk from next term.

In a letter the school said money already paid in advance will be reimbursed.

One disappointed mum said: “I understand that the government has made significant council budget reductions but I find it disgusting that children are suffering. Some poor children will have no breakfast and depend upon that milk.”

At least three other schools in the area are believed to be following suit.

St Bede’s in Clayton-Le-Woods, had planned to stop offering milk but had a change of heart following complaints from parents.

Mick Charnock, headteacher at Greenlands Primary in Preston, said the school will use its new pupil premium to ensure infant children who want milk will get it.

He said: “The impact on most schools is that they will either have to increase the cost or stop providing it. If they do provide milk they will have to make sure they provide it free for those on free school meals.

“I am using the pupil premium to help offset the cost.

I think that in these hard economic times parents struggle. School dinners are going up and we charge £6 a term for milk. It actually costs £1 a week.

“We run a free breakfast club here to ensure the children get a piece of toast to start the day. I think we need to ensure they get the nutrients they need if we want them to learn and improve in class.”

The National Association of Headteachers said the county council could have continued to administer the service on behalf of schools.

Lancashire secretary and former headteacher Tony Roberts said:“Inevitably the kids who will lose out will be those who need it most.”

Deputy speaker of the House of Commons and Chorley MP Lindsay Hoyle has urged LCC to take control back.

His staff spoke to 16 schools. Some appear willing to use one of the private providers, others scrapping the scheme while another is looking at doubling the charge from £6 to £12.

He said: “I am extremely concerned that as a consequence of the governments changes to school funding we are going to lose the provision of school milk or see prices rise significantly for parents with children at school. We all know the benefits of drinking milk for children and that is why the school milk programme exists. Now that the County Council is no longer going to administer the scheme we see schools left in a difficult position as to whether they can continue to supply milk.

“This could result in children’s nutrition being affected as well as farmers losing out as contracts are transferred to private providers.”

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.

“We will no longer be distributing milk but have given schools the names of contractors who they can contract with to ensure a continued supply at a comparable price.

“These arrangements don’t apply to nursery schools, as the full cost of school milk for under-fives can be reclaimed in milk grants.”

Barton St Lawrence CE Primary, near Preston, said it has found a new supplier who will be using local dairies and deal with all the administration. A spokesman said: “The cost to parents is going up from £6 per term to £13, 19p a day but the parents are fine with it.”

Kennington Primary, Fulwood, is planning to buy milk in from a local milkman and provide the infants with a tumbler full at break.

At English Martyrs Catholic Primary in Ashton headteacher Diane Gallagher is still waiting to learn parents views but thinks the lunchtime hot chocolate and toast may beat milk into second place.