Concerns have been raised over Croydon council’s decision to stop its school meals services, forcing individual schools to find new caterers .
It will affect 78 primary schools, 11 special schools or referral units and six secondary schools. From next April, schools will take responsibility for their own commissioning decisions to meet the needs of their own pupils.
However, parents, teacher and catering organisations have warned that the policy could hurt those on low incomes – for whom the school meal is the main nutrition source of the day – and create extra problems for schools on budgets.
Sian Thomas, head teacher of Victoria House Pupil Referral Unit, in Southbridge Place, Croydon, said she felt the decision placed an extra burden on pupils.
She told the Croydon Advertiser: “In principle I think it’s a good idea because it will give us more choice and freedom in meeting pupils’ nutritional requirements.The difficulty we face is the short timescale which has been imposed and the lack of resources at our disposal.
“There is now an expectation on heads to arrange an alternative in a relatively short space of time. My concern is schools will rush into finding alternatives which will not necessarily provide value for money.”
Ms Thomas added: “We feed between 12 to 18 children each day, so to employ a cook is not financially viable. It would hugely cut into resources.”
Beverley Baker, chair of the Local Authority Caterers’ Association (LACA) said it was concerned “about the level of fragmentation and dilution any school meals service might potentially face if this type of direction is taken.’’
A spokesman for Croydon Council said: “Research in other local authorities that have taken the decision to support schools in commissioning their own catering service has shown positive results in terms of the engagement and take-up of school meals. There are a number of options available to schools regarding the delivery of a school meals service.”
Croydon said a Food in Schools team, a training programme for teachers to enhance their understanding about food in the primary curriculum, will be hosting a series of road shows giving schools further information about their options.
In the run up to the council elections in Croydon in May, the local Labour Party pledged to provide free school meals for all primary school pupils in Croydon through saving £80,000 by scrapping the free local newspaper published by the council.
By Amy Lacey