AROUND 15,000 children across Cumbria are to be entitled to free school meals from autumn.

It follows new national legislation by the coalition government requiring all schools to provide a free school meal for pupils in reception, Year One and Year Two.

Cumbria County Council's ruling Cabinet meets on Thursday (June 5) to rubberstamp the idea.

In Cumbria, as of January 2013, 2,168 pupils across the age group received a free school meal.

Under the new rules this will jump to around 15,000, said the authority.

With not all schools having the necessary facilities or equipment to implement the policy, the council's Cabinet is also being asked to approve a programme of works that will ensure all schools are able to meet the new requirements.

The council has been allocated a total of £1.15m in capital funding from government this year to fund the project, which has included upgrading kitchens and increasing dining capacity where required.

Government is also providing additional revenue funding, based on a flat rate of £2.30 per meal, to schools to cover the additional cost of providing the universal free school meal.

Coun Anne Burns, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “Providing a free hot school meal has been shown to have a real positive impact on schools in terms of pupils’ concentration, behaviour and attainment and I welcome the roll-out of this new scheme in Cumbria.

“Government set us a very challenging task to implement the necessary changes to facilities and equipment in time. It’s testament to the hard work of schools and council officers that we are now in a position that we can be confident the vast majority of schools will be ready and able to provide hot meals come September."