GOVERNORS of a North Wales school at the centre of a row over dinners have said they will not support a system that refuses to give pupils meals “based on affordability”.
The strategic head of Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle school in Gwynedd, North Wales, had warned parents and carers in a letter that their children would not be given school meals by the cook if their debts were not cleared.
The letter, which suggested pupils would not be fed if they were more than a penny in debt, sparked widespread criticism – including from England footballer and food poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford.
Rashford, whose campaigning forced a Government U-turn over providing free school meals to vulnerable children throughout the school holidays during the coronavirus pandemic, tweeted: “Has the pandemic not taught us anything? Can we not be understanding? Come on now.”
On Friday, the governing body of the school called for the procedures set out in the original letter to be “reviewed”.
Sara Lloyd Evans, chair of Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle school governing body, said: “Each school has financial responsibilities and in order to run a school effectively and efficiently budgets have to be followed.
“However, it is important to always consider the bigger picture and that not all matters can be dealt with on a black and white basis. One such matter is the provision of school dinners.
“Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle school governing body will not be supportive of any system which refuses the provision of a school dinner to a pupil based on affordability. This has never been practised at the school to date. The school governing body insists that the procedures set out in the letter are reviewed.”
In a letter to parents and carers, Neil Foden, strategic leader of the school, said he was taking action as there was an “unexpected deficit” in the school meals budget after pupils had run up debts totalling more than £1,800.
A deadline of November 19 had been set for parents to get their children’s accounts up to date – and the cook had been “instructed not to give food to any child” from November 22 if debts were not cleared.
In a statement on Friday, Ms Evans added: “The school governing body is aware that Mr Foden received guidance from the local authority as to how the debts should be managed and following this guidance he sent the letter to parents and carers.
“The governing body will discuss the technical advice provided with the local authority to ensure that there are no future communication difficulties in the future.”
A spokesperson for Gwynedd Council said: “We apologise for the worry and concern caused by the content and wording of a recent letter from Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle to parents regarding school dinner payments.
“As a council, the welfare of children and young people is always our priority, and we will always ensure that no child across the county will face a day without lunch at school. This should be made clear in any letter to parents from the county’s schools when discussing school dinners.
“Having investigated what happened in the case of this recent letter, it seems that technical advice provided by the Education Department on how to deal with school dinner payment debts created a lack of clarity, and we sincerely apologise for the impact this has had.
“In light of this matter, we will review our guidance to schools.
“We would urge any parents or guardians who are experiencing difficulty paying for their child’s school dinners to contact the Education Department or school directly. Their child may be entitled to free school meals.
“If a child is not eligible for the free school meals scheme, we would still encourage families to contact us for guidance and support if they are facing financial hardship.”