Breadline Voices: 'Children are cleaning floors to get a free meal'

School meal

Assistant headteacher, London Secondary School 

"Inflation could force schools to cut meal portions or quality, says food firm boss"... "Schools face tough decisions unless government increases funding for free school meals says Bidfood chief" – quoted from Guardian May 17, 2022

"Well, I am not sure what there is to cut in terms of quality or portions on the basis of what I observe on a daily basis in my role as assistant head teacher at a south London secondary school.

"To set the scene let me describe what I am seeing on a daily basis in terms of secondary school students and school meals.

"Portions so small they are put in a round cardboard container about 10cm wide and 6cm deep. The traditional Friday fish last week consisted of beans, coleslaw and few chips all squashed at the bottom with half a portion of fish on top.

"I was aghast at the half portion of fish so enquired why the portion size was so small. The answer; because that was today's main meal bulked out with the coleslaw. The cost? £1.85 (for the meal of the day).

"I regularly observe students assisting with cleaning floors and tables at the end of service so they can be allowed a free meal by the catering staff (the cleaning should be done by catering staff.)

"Students stealing food is something I have to be on alert for (I turn a blind eye). How humiliating to be caught out in front of your friends when you are just so hungry because the last time you ate was your dinner the night before.

"The abundant provision of high sugar snacks at break and lunchtime leaves me astounded: Sugary waffles for lunch anyone?

"They will at least fill you up more than the main meal and are half the price so you can buy two. A piece of toast would surely be cheaper? Fresh fruit is scarce and costly.

"Students are turned away at the till if there is no money on their account. Despite my assertions that students should be allowed something they are refused.

"My position in the school does not afford me the right to make that decision. Why? Because of our catering company – a profit making machine that would rather see students hungry and poorly fed than have any profits compromised.

"We are stuck in a contract that we inadvertently got roped into when we were promised a refurb of our dilapidated canteen.

"The catering company had us in the palm of their hands as this was a cost free way of getting a refurbished canteen. The cost? Staying contractually obliged for five years of which we now have one year remaining.

"They would rather throw food out than make it available to a student for free as it would set a precedent. I mean who would want to be seen to be feeding hungry kids."

This is part of Breadline Voices, a series from The Food Foundation highlighting the realities faced by millions of families plunged into food and fuel poverty as food prices reach a 40-year high.

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