EDUCATION chiefs have denied that cuts in Poole school budgets have anything to do with providing free school meals.

School budgets in Poole have been cut by the maximum allowed by government – 1.5 per cent per pupil – with parents fearing this is to fund free meals for infants starting in September.

Kate Shephard, who has a son at Lilliput Infant School said: “Although hot school meals will be a welcome addition I have spoken to a number of parents and we all feel that we would rather have the school budget reimbursed and go without these if it means saving jobs and/or resources.”

However Borough of Poole has denied the two are connected saying: “This level of reduction has been necessary in Poole due mainly to the increase in funding needed to make education provision for children with special needs.”

The change in the age of transfer, which took place last September, reduced budgets in primary schools where a year group was lost. However school budgets will rise or fall as pupil numbers change.

Currently 1,790 school lunches are provided daily and when universal free school meals are introduced this could rise to 5,400.

The government has supplied Borough of Poole with £253,177 capital funding with a further allocation of £20,607 for voluntary aided schools.

However more school kitchen hubs are likely to be needed and the council has set aside £500,000 to implement the government strategy when costs are known.

Vicky Wales, pictured inset, head of children, young people and learning said: “The government is introducing the requirement for universal infant free school meals.

“The strategy is going to be very challenging, but we are working together with our schools to identify the best way we can implement this within all Poole schools who have key stage one.”

Revenue funding for free school meals will be based on a rate of £2.30 for each meal and if the school chooses a meal provider that charges more, they will have to make up the shortfall.