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School meals branded ‘absolutely shocking’ in County Durham as kids ‘come home hungry’

School meals in County Durham have come under fire, described as “absolutely shocking” by concerned parents and politicians who fear for the impact on children’s health and education.

The quality and affordability of the food provided in schools has sparked a wave of concern, with reports of children returning home hungry.

Questions are being raised about the contract between the council and Chartwells, the meal provider, as calls for higher standards in school dining grow louder.

Rhonda Wright, echoing the concerns of many parents, shared her frustration: “My daughter comes home famished everyday,” highlighting that despite rising costs, the quality of school meals seems to be lacking.

She further commented on the situation, saying: “I pay approximately 80 to 100 quid a month on her app for meals and the food is pathetic not to mention the prices. I check her app regularly to see what she is eating and a cookie is £1.35! What happened to the old style dinner pudding and drink with one set price like when I was at school? “.

Dawn Teasdale also weighed in, lamenting the loss of traditional school dinners: “[I] can’t believe they got rid of the school dinner ladies making proper home cooked dinners like we used to have as kids.”

“The stuff they get now is not nutritious at all and they don’t get fresh veg. It’s £2.50, I’d rather pay twice as much and get them a healthy filling meal.”

Echoing this sentiment are similar anecdotes from other parents, often exchanged at the school gates or online forums. The rising cost of meals has left some pupils priced out of full lunchtime meals after spending part of their pocket-money on mid-morning refreshments.

According to Cllr Joyce Charlton, staff at Tanfield School in Stanley keep a hold of some food “so no kids go hungry at lunchtime”, although she observes, “not all schools do that.”

Warning bells are sounded by Cllr Carl Marshall, the leader of County Durham Labour, who stresses that the system is teetering due to soaring costs and budget burdens.

“The quality of school meals in County Durham is absolutely shocking: the feedback, quality of the provision, and size of the meals,” he brought to notice at a Durham County Council scrutiny meeting. He also pointed out the seriousness of the issue as he mentioned “Kids are coming home hungry on an evening.”

This Stanley councillor put forth an idea for the council to revisit its contract with Chartwells, the current provider of school meals at some primary schools in County Durham.

He noted the urgent need to address this issue, stating: ““The costs have gone up again. This is hitting parents of children who aren’t on free school meals but are clearly struggling to make ends meet. Something needs to be done to look at the cost and quality of school meals provision.

“Not only is it a cost for parents but it’s also an issue for schools. Some of those costs have been pushed onto local governing bodies and primary schools at a time of a decade of funding cuts from the national government and are struggling to provide the breadth and depth of education that people in County Durham need.”

The system adopted at Brandon Primary Academy is one which could be replicated across the region due to its success, said cllr Jonathan Elmer, a governor at the school.

He explained: “Once the kids arrive at school there is a menu selection that they do and decide what to have on that day. It really helps because it reduces the issue of food waste, and the kids are more likely to eat the food they have selected. The old system, that most schools operated, saw the menu chosen at the start of term. This system increases the likelihood of kids getting a decent meal.”

“At Brandon, they are really pleased with the quality of food provided. I know it’s a big issue and some of the private companies have been extremely poor but it’s not the case in this school. I support the calls to look into why there are varying performances across the county.”

Cllr Rob Crute said there is a correlation between the quality of food and educational attainment in schools but warned of the concerning number of hot food takeaways just yards from school gates across County Durham.

Chartwells has acknowledged that inflation has affected food and labour costs, resulting in parents being asked to pay more.

A spokesperson stated: “Our teams are passionate about providing high quality, nutritious meals for the pupils that we serve. We always work hard to provide value for money and we do all that we can to mitigate the impact of inflation. However, as a result of the ongoing inflation being experienced in relation to food and labour costs, in agreement with Durham County Council Primary School Meals Board, the school meal price has recently increased.”

“Quality control measures, of the school meals provision, are in place through a monitoring programme carried out by the council.”

Jim Murray, Durham County Council’s head of education and skills, commented: “We know how important it is for children to have fresh, tasty, and nutritious food at school.”

“Due to ongoing impacts of inflation, the Primary Schools Board, made up of school leaders across County Durham, agreed to slightly increase the price of primary school meals to reflect the rise in supplier costs. However, fees remain in line with average school meal prices across the UK.”

“We continue to provide free school meals for eligible pupils and would encourage parents and guardians to check their eligibility so that they don’t miss out on their entitlement.”

View news Source: https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/school-meals-branded-absolutely-shocking-29077084

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