SCHOOLS in south Essex have been given more than £750,000 to improve their kitchens.

Primary, infant, and nursery schools have been handed the cash by Essex County Council and Southend Council out of the Free School Meals Programme for school kitchens and dining rooms.

Castle Point schools have been given £101,655, while Basildon schools have been handed £224,264 to make sure their facilities are spick and span by September, when all pupils between the ages of four and seven will be eligible for free lunches.

Schools in Southend, including voluntary-aided schools, will receive £440,000 funding from the Department of Education for improvements to canteens.

Under the Government scheme, each small school will get a minimum of £3,000 to extend or improve kitchens, and cover costs.

Leigh Beck Infant School and Nursery, in Point Road, Canvey, was given the biggest sum – £56,100. In Basildon, Kingswood Junior School, in Clay Hill Road, was handed £39,900. Emma Lane, headteacher at Leigh Beck, said: “We are bringing the kitchen up to the highest possible standard.

“We will be able to improve the facilities and make sure all children receive the best possible service.

“The kitchen provides food for the junior school as well, so we want to make it the best it can be.”

A Freedom of Information request revealed only 15 out of 343 Essex schools had “adequate”

facilities to cater for all infants.

Peter Malcolm, headteacher at Rayleigh Primary School, in Love Lane, said he was unsure how many schools would be prepared for September and said some difficult decisions lay ahead.

He said: “It is a long time since schools served three meals for so many children. We are serving 100 to 120 meals an hour, and that would likely double. There is no way we can cater for this without making some changes.”

Mike Singleton, Southend Council’s group manager for school funding, capital and access, added: “The council is looking to ensure capital is made available to schools that have the greatest needs. Allocations should be made at the beginning of April, but at this stage we cannot provide the detailed figures.”