THE price of York’s primary school meals should be reduced, a council task group has recommended.

City of York Council last year set up a study into the uptake and popularity of school meals, looking at the reasons why hundreds of children were not taking them up for free, despite being entitled to them.

Draft conclusions and recommendations have now been published, and suggest education chiefs, caterers and schools need to work together to reduce prices.

The £2.25 cost of York’s meals is the highest in Yorkshire and a report discussed by the task group last night said caterers who provide meals for primary schools should work with those schools and the council to reduce the price for Key Stage Two pupils.

It said this could be done in conjunction with free meals for infant pupils being introduced from September, since more meals being provided for Key Stage One children should allow cheaper prices for other school years.

The group has also recommended schools being more flexible about when and how often parents pay for school meals, as well as annual checks to identify parents entitled to, but not claiming, free meals and to encourage them to take up the offer.

Council officials will now be asked to look into the impact of the recommendations. The task group said the cost of York’s meals was a “prohibitive factor” in increasing take-up, although about 55 per cent of pupils would have to choose them in order for the price to fall to £2 without a larger council subsidy. The current rate is 38 per cent.

Caroline Morgan, chief executive of Dorset-based Local Food Links Ltd – a not-for-profit organisation catering for 29 schools – said: “It is very encouraging that City of York Council is engaging on this subject.

“Dorset schoolchildren had no hot school meals at all for about 25 years, so we have absolutely no subsidy. The problem we are facing is that the infrastructure has all but disappeared and so schools and caterers are struggling to make plans for September, when universal free school meals will see our numbers more than double. Ingredient prices are increasing all the time and we are struggling to keep to our budget, so there is absolutely no way we could consider reducing the cost of our meals.”

The task group said York schools must see catering as being important to pupils’ health and academic achievement, while the impact of free meals for Key Stage One pupils on issues such as primary school kitchen space, equipment and how the school day works, as well as any knock-on effect for secondary schools, should be monitored.