Argyll council is starting a free school meals trial to ensure it is capable of fulfilling the Scottish government’s plan to feed youngsters for nothing.
The new free meals scheme for P1-3 pupils is being served up in January, and the council is assessing the costs it is likely to incur.
All schools in the area are likely to hold week-long pilots from October this year.
The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 includes a requirement for Local Authorities to provide free school meals for all P1-P3 pupils from January 2015.
In a paper to go before Argyll and Bute Council on Thursday, head of facility services Malcolm MacFadyen states: “The Government appears to be making the commitment to fund this policy in full although further details on the mechanisms for this have still to be announced.”
The provision of the meals in Argyll and Bute is expected to cost £945,375 for part of the financial year in 2014/15 and £1,268,900 in the full year 2015/16.
Councillors will be asked on Thursday to approve a series of pilots expected to cost £18,000.
Mr MacFadyen writes: “As this policy change will have major implications for some schools, consideration has been given to implementing a pilot approach in advance of the launch date in January to fully test the required arrangements.
“Following consideration of the various options for this, it is recommended that the most appropriate and cost effective approach would be to provide free meals for all P1-3 pupils for one week, on a rolling programme covering the affected schools, to test the operational impact and assess the actual cost implications.”
The pilot would give schools an early indication of the likely uptake of the free meals and would allow operational issues in kitchens to be identified and addressed.
It would also allow for staff training to be carried out in kitchens and give an indication of dining room issues including length of queues and time taken to set up.
The current uptake of free school meals in primary schools across the Argyll and Bute Council area is 95.79%. If this trend continues, it is estimated that the total number of free meals provided each day will increase from 759 to approximately 2,459, an increase of 324%.
Total meal uptake is likely to increase from 2,803 to approximately 4,071, an increase of 46%. Some of the pupils who will become eligible for free school meals under the new policy currently pay. The council has to take account of this loss of income which is estimated at £333,000 per annum.