Schools across Flintshire are asking for more lunchtime supervisors as the council rolls out the Universal Free School Meals project.

The Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru have committed to every primary school child in Wales receiving free school meals by 2024 as part of its co-operation arrangement, delivered through local authorities.

In Flintshire, a phased roll-out began in September for all Reception age children, with Year 1 and Year 2 students to begin receiving their free meals from April next year, and all pupils by 2024.

Member of Flintshire Council’s Education, Youth and Culture Overview and Scrutiny committee received a report on how the roll-out of the project is progressing, with parents and schools having also taken part in a survey about the scheme.

More than 20 primary schools in the county have flagged the need for additional staff to support the roll-out.

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The report stated: “A significant amount of work is required to ensure that in Flintshire we have the infrastructure, equipment, resource and processes in place to support full implementation of this policy.

“It is not just about ensuring a meal can be provided but that eligible children have access to cutlery to eat it with, a place to sit whilst eating, that schools have adequate staff to act as lunchtime supervisors for an extended period to enable all children to have a lunch sitting, that data is captured on eligibility and meal uptake.

“One of the most frequent concerns raised by schools was the additional time required to ensure young children eat their meals in the allocated time for lunch.

“Concerns were also expressed around the need for additional lunch sittings and the impact this may have on outdoor play time and the school day more broadly.

“Schools were also asked about the need for additional lunchtime supervisors, with 23 schools describing the need for additional staff from either September 2022 or April 2023.”

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Speaking at the scrutiny meeting, Hawarden / Ewloe Councillor Dave Mackie (Ind) said he had been approached by headteachers about issues with staffing the roll-out.

“My concern is staffing”, he said.

"The report talks about the need for extra supervisors and the extra time it is going to take.

“There are some staffing issues here. I am having some headteachers talking to me about staffing issues ein relation to the supply of school meals.”

The council's Chief Officer for Education, Claire Homard responded to say there were “significant challenges” recruiting across a number of areas at the moment due to the market.

She added that no schools had flagged up “a very specific difficulty that they have not been to deliver that meal offer," adding "but I'm not saying it has been without its challenges”.

Members were also told it was important that families of pupils currently qualifying for free school meals continue to apply despite the universal roll-out, to continue to be eligible to receive school uniform grants and other benefits.

Hope Councillor Gladys Healey (Lab) suggested the council writes to parents and guardians of all children eligible for free school meals to continue to apply.