Pupils told they will get ‘bread roll’ instead of hot meal unless parents pay up

Angry parents have hit out at a primary school after children were told they would be withheld hot meals if they owe dinner money.

A letter sent to parents by Devonshire Park Primary School in Birkenhead, Merseyside, stated that if a pupil is in arrears for dinners and does not have a packed lunch with them, then they will be given "toast or a bread roll".

The school argues that it was owed more than £1,000 in outstanding payments from parents last year – and its policies were no different to any other.

But one outraged parent, who wishes to remain anonymous, described the policy as "disgusting" – particularly given the current economic climate.

She told Liverpool Echo: "[My friend] works as a single mum but struggles financially.

"I think it needs to be made aware that it’s not just Universal Credit that is causing families to live in poverty.

"I’m guessing there will be plenty of parents in the same situation who have received the letter."

The note to parents and carers, revealed on Monday, said: "If your child has a negative balance on their dinner money account they will not be provided with a hot meal. If they do not have a packed lunch with them, they will be given toast or a bread roll.

"Please ensure you clear any dinner money debt before the start of the new term. If you have any questions or are experiencing any difficulties, please speak to the office staff."

A spokesman for the school said the policy for paid-for school meals is "no different" to any other and that the school already subsidises payments for lunches.

He added: "The school fully understands the financial difficulties that some parents face and we always ask them to contact the office to discuss any issues so we can do everything we can to help. Often their circumstances may mean they are entitled to claim free school meals, but they haven’t been aware of it until we have spoken to them.

"Our policy on paid-for school meals is no different to any other school. We request that parents keep their dinner money balance in credit. If it isn’t, we still give pupils a hot meal and then ask for payment afterwards."

Every Friday, parents with a debt of £10 or more are sent letters reminding them and requesting payment.

The spokesman added: "If the debt continued to grow we would ask parents to provide a packed lunch for the child and pay the balance off over a period of time that suits them.

“The school already subsidises meals, having reduced their cost from £2.30 to £2. At the end of last term, the school was owed more than £1,000 in outstanding payments for school dinners. We would never allow a child to go hungry, but equally it would be irresponsible to allow parents to build up more and more debt."

It is understood that the school has only had to enforce this policy on one occasion, when a child, whose parents had a debt greater than £10 and who did not give their child a packed lunch one day.

With the parent’s permission, that child got two cheese spread rolls that day, and their parents now provide packed lunches every day.

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