Communal leaders have welcomed the proposed increase in funding for kosher meals at London’s Jewish primary state schools, which was announced this week.
While non-Jewish schools will receive £3 per meal from September, under Mayor Sadiq Khan’s extended scheme, Jewish state schools will receive £3.85 per meal to make up for the higher cost of kosher food. This is up from the current amount of £3.50.
In the past, schools had struggled to bridge the gap between funding allocated and the cost of kosher catering. In May, hundreds of Jewish pupils, some from deprived areas of London, were forced to go without a hot lunch after a kosher caterer reportedly closed without warning.
Andrew Gilbert, co-chair of the London Jewish Forum, praised the announcement as “great news and a major step in the right direction. It means the cost of a hot kosher meal should be nearly all covered by the funding.”
Under existing government rules, all children at state schools in England are entitled to free school lunches from Reception up to Year 2 (Key Stage 1) on a budget of £2.53 per child. Years 3 to 6 pupils from households in receipt of eligible benefits are also entitled to free lunches. Mr Khan's scheme provides lunch for every London state pupil in Years 3 to 6 not already covered by government funding.
Gilbert said: “I hope the government will increase its funding of Key Stage 1, so they can also access a hot kosher meal if they want it. The mayor’s initiative is a great step, and they should follow it.”
Rabbi Joel Sager, headteacher of Pardes House Primary School in Finchley, north London, said: “Having heard the mayor’s announcement, that can only be a positive for children in all schools, particularly for those children and families who may not meet the threshold for free school meals but do rely on a school lunch.”
Finchley Church End councillor Eva Greenspan welcomed the mayor’s announcement but expressed caution about being too optimistic about the practicalities of providing kosher meals, saying that it still left “a clear funding gap” in the cost of kosher meals, which, she said was “north of £4 per child”.
In September, Greenspan set up the charity Kosher School Meals with parents and business leaders to raise money to pass on to schools to help fund associated costs in the provision of kosher meals, such as kitchen equipment.
Overall, Sadiq Khan proposes providing £140m to continue providing free school meals in September, up from the current £135m.
City Hall said families would save up to £1,000 over the two years per child as they struggled with the cost-of-living crisis. Khan said he was “thrilled to announce my intention to extend this lifeline for families for yet another year”.
Meanwhile, one Jewish primary’s new caterer is enjoying an enthusiastic response from children.
Meals provided to Etz Chaim in Mill Hill by Fusion Caterers, which started in October, have received a thumbs-up from class ambassadors. “The new menu is much better than the old menu and instantly everyone thought the food was delicious. said one.
Another said, “I have surprised myself by trying new things I thought I wouldn’t like"
Etz Chaim headteacher, Hannah Martin, sayid: “It took a long time and a lot of work to find a catering option that enabled us to provide good quality hot meals, without it having to cost the parents too much to make up the shortfall between funding and the cost of provision. What is even more pleasing is that the children all seem to really like the food, which isn’t always the case with school lunches.”
The team at Fusion Cater "have been lovely to work with,” she said.
Sanaa Abjamma, director of Fusion Caterers, says: “It gives us pleasure seeing children enjoying the food.”
The school’s well-equipped kitchen at Etz Chaim “gives us the means to prepare a wide-ranging menu throughout the week. Now that we are settled in to the school, we hope to be able to use it as a base for preparing school meals for other Jewish schools who want to be able to bring hot meals in from an outside caterer."
The current menu offers a choice of hot meals each day, as well as a selection of vegetables, salads, fruit and a dessert. Popular dishes so far have included turkey shwarma, lasagna, mushroom stroganoff, falafel and sweet and sour chicken.