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Free school meals

3 March 2014

All primary schools and academies have to provide free school meals to its reception, year one and year two pupils from September 2014. The short timeframe can put academies under pressure to source suppliers, collaborate with other schools or plan building works without being clear on the risks and benefits.

To keep academies on the right track, here are our five top tips for avoiding unnecessary risk and reducing cost safely.

1. Contracting with other schools

Do other local secondary or primary schools or academies have catering facilities already? If so, they may be happy to work with your academy to provide your pupils with school meals.

Entering into a formal arrangement would be wise in these circumstances. That way, you can include terms in the agreement regarding the quality of the food, delivery times and other key performance indicators (KPIs) to ensure that you retain control over the important aspects of school meals.

2. Local collaboration

Consider collaborating with other schools or academies to improve your purchasing power and drive down the cost of the provider. After all, they would rather work with five schools than just one.

Collaborations of this nature do not need to be overcomplicated or indeed require legal support – all you would be doing is getting together to improve your bargaining position and a simple Memorandum of Understanding or basic contract between you may well suffice. This collaborative approach could also be used when contracting with other schools and academies.

3. Be clear on agreement terms before you sign

Like other organisations, schools and academies can find themselves tied into agreements without fully appreciating the risks/benefits and key contractual terms. These could relate to anything from major equipment leases such as kitchen pods down to the agreement with a third party to provide meals for you.

It is essential before entering into any agreement that as a minimum you have absolute clarity of understanding about:

  • agreement length
  • notice periods
  • cancellation rights
  • penalty clauses
  • payment terms.

Including the KPIs set out in tip one above in the agreement would also strengthen your position.

4. Understand your construction contracts

Constructing a new kitchen may be an option for you and as with any building works, it is important that you put in place the correct contractual documentation. This is not only so those involved on the project know what they are required to build (or to pay), but so that if things go wrong you have a document that clearly sets out your rights and remedies. A simple invoice evidencing what you have paid will not provide this.

Whilst a construction contract is relatively simple in theory (a contractor agrees to construct a building for the owner for an agreed cost and within an agreed time), there are so many variants to this theme and other issues to consider (e.g. how will the works be priced? Who will be responsible for the design?) that typically a construction project involves more than one contract – and it is important to ensure that each of those contracts properly protects your interests.

5. Consider working with your local authority

Your local authority (LA) may already be providing these services to many schools and academies in your area. As well as learning from their experience, you could consider contracting with them to provide school meals for your academy. This may not be appropriate for all academies, but it is worth investigating.

As an academy, if you decide to work with the LA you should treat them as you would any other provider and ensure the appropriate contract terms are included and satisfy yourself that you understand all the issues set out in tip one and tip three.

There are of course other issues for you to consider depending on which option you choose, but these top tips will help you think about how best to provide school meals in your academy.

Use your quickcall support service or contact us for advice.

The EFA have issued further guidance which explains how the grant for universal infant free school meals will be allocated and paid to local authorities for maintained schools. Click here to view.


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