Cash-strapped primary school considering scrapping hot school meals for pupils

CREDIT: This story was first seen in Coventry LIVE

A primary school is making a last-ditch attempt to continue providing hot school meals for pupils after previously saying they were too expensive after budget cuts,  Coventry LIVE reports.

Parents were warned that Eastern Green Junior School was considering scrapping hot school meals entirely in a bid to save cash last month.

A letter sent out to parents blamed the move on cuts and increased running costs.

It said the school, as with others across the country, was under ‘tremendous financial pressure’ and had been running school meals at a ‘significant loss’ for years.

“Currently, the only way in which we can maintain our school meals service is by significantly increasing costs of school meals by up to 60% which is both unfeasible and unreasonable,” the letter added.

“Another alternative solution is that we become a ‘packed lunch only’ school; if this decision is made, this is likely to take effect from September 2018.”

Now headteacher Nicky Aston has said the school, which has 230 pupils according to the school guide website and was rated ‘good’ in its last Ofsted inspection in November 2017, believes a ‘solution’ has been found.

She did not reveal what that answer was but said parents would be informed in the coming weeks.

The revelation comes just a day after Coventry Foodbank said it had to deliver 8,000 emergency three-day food packages to children in the city last year who would otherwise have gone hungry.

Labour councillors said a move to scrap hot meals at the school could set a dangerous precedent for other struggling schools in the city looking to save cash.

Gavin Lloyd, who is running for election in Woodlands ward where the school is based in the May 3 local government elections, said: “My big worry is this starts becoming a precedent.

“How many other schools will jump on board if they see this as a way to save costs when they are struggling?”

He said he had spoken to parents at the school and was concerned for their “mental wellbeing” because of the extra stress providing lunches for their children would bring.

Councillor Ed Ruane, portfolio holder for children and young people at Coventry City Council, said schools were having to make tough choices between “cutting teaching assistants or cutting provision”.

He added: “There are some kids who only receive a hot meal at school.

“If this school in quite an affluent area of Coventry can’t afford to provide hot school meals, then how will your child’s school be impacted by the school budget cuts?

“I think 102 out of 103 schools are going to see reduced funding and that’s just going to continue.

“Schools are having to make the choice between cutting teaching assistants or cutting provision.

“For a headteacher to have to be sending out a letter like that, I’m not going to criticise her one bit.”

But Conservative councillors for Woodlands ward – Julia Lepoidevin, Peter Male and Gary Ridley – accused Labour of “using children as a political football” ahead of local government elections on May 3.

They said: “This is yet more scaremongering from Labour.

“We have spoken to the headteacher and they’ve assured us as ward Councillors that the school will continue to offer hot meals beyond September.

You might also like...  Government urged to pilot payments for school governors

“As active ward Councillors, we’re happy to meet schools in our community and we’ll work constructively with them to find solutions to any funding problems.

“However, we will never use children as a political football. Playing politics and causing unnecessary worry for children and parents is not what local residents want, or deserve, from a local Councillor.

“We urge Labour to do the right thing and apologise for the alarm and distress they have caused.”

What the headteacher says

Headteacher Nicky Aston said: “We sent the letter to parents and carers about a month ago as we wanted to make them aware of possible changes to school meals provision well ahead of the new school term in September.

“We were just consulting on this and now think we have identified a solution to ensure that we continue to provide hot school lunches.

“We will be getting in touch with parents and carers in the coming weeks once this is agreed.

“Like many schools up and down the country we want to ensure the best possible standards of education and care for our pupils – this is our absolute priority.”

What is the law?

Schools are not required to provide a hot meal for lunch. But Department for Education advice states that: “Although there is no requirement that lunches must be hot meals, hot lunches should be provided wherever possible to ensure that all pupils are able to eat at least one hot meal every day.”

The letter in full

A letter sent to parents from the school read: ‘Dear Parents and Carers, as you may be aware, schools across the country are currently facing tremendous financial pressures as a result of frozen budgets and significantly increased running costs.

‘Inevitably a small school like ours in an area such as Easter Green has not been able to avoid such pressures and we are currently considering how we can best ensure financial security for our school.

‘One of the areas we need to give serious consideration to is the provision of hot school meals.

‘For the past few years, we have been running school meals at a significant loss and realistically cannot continue to operate the service when the alternative is a negative impact on standards and provision for our children.

‘Currently, the only way in which we can maintain our school meals service is by significantly increasing costs of school meals by up to 60% which is both unfeasible and unreasonable.

‘Another alternative solution is that we become a ‘packed lunch only’ school; if this decision is made, this is likely to take effect from September 2018.

‘We will continue to explore all alternative and will keep you informed of any decisions made but in the meantime, if you wish to discuss any of this further with the Governing Body or myself, please do not hesitate to contact us.’

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, or connect with us on LinkedIn!