School meal portions are being shrunk, leaving children to go hungry, teachers and parents have warned. Smaller portion sizes caused by cost-cutting are reported in schools across the country and are of particular concern, given the increase in the number of impoverished pupils who rely on school lunches as their only hot meal of the day. Primary-age children, in particular, are going hungry after being given lunches that are too small, according to teachers.
The findings of a study by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) were confirmed by individual teachers and parent groups who told The Independent it was a growing problem that had to be addressed. “Children are going hungry in schools and we all know what hunger does to your ability to learn,” said Mary Bousted, the ATL’s general-secretary.
“It is no surprise that, in the current economic climate, there has been an increase in the uptake of free school meals … For some children, it may be their only hot meal of the day.”
Figures from the School Food Trust show that the number of children eligible for free school dinners increased by 43,000 to an estimated 1,055,000 in 2010-11. More than a third of education staff have reported an increase in the take-up of free meals since 2007.
In the ATL survey, teachers warned that private providers, who are often hired to supply school meals, were cutting portion sizes to make their budgets go further and win new contracts. “The younger children pay the same price but get much less than the older ones,” said one reception class teacher in Bradford. “Also, they do not get the choice as this is also saved for the older ones.”
Another primary teacher added: “There are occasions when the portion size is very small and there have been times when portions have run out.”
An early years teacher said: “Children who come with packed lunches eat a lot more at lunchtime.”
Another said: “Some meals are delicious, others are far from it. The portions served to the children are very poor and there seems to be no regular inspection of the food, kitchens or portion size.”
Margaret Morrissey, of the pressure group Parents Outloud, said it had received similar complaints from parents. “Providers would rather cut back on quantity than put up their prices because they fear a rise in cost would lose them the contract,” she said. “Instead of increasing the price, they have cut back on quality and quantity.
Councils should monitor providers very closely because many children – especially the young ones – have this as their main meal of the day. It is important that the meal is of good quality.”Claire Kellett, a teacher working in Somerset, warned the Education Secretary, Michael Gove: “Children don’t have to read Dickens – yes, Mr Gove, they’re living it.”
Teachers say that those pupils whose families pay for their school meals are simply receiving less for more. In all, 62 per cent of teachers surveyed by the ATL said meal prices had risen by up to 50p a day – or £95 extra a year – in some areas. Nearly half (44 per cent) of the teachers surveyed believed all primary age pupils should be entitled to free school meals.
A spokesman for the School Food Trust said: “Our research proves that school food is particularly sensitive to changes in price. In these tough financial times, access to decent food for children has never been so important.”
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