Meet the Yorkshire head teachers helping feed children on free school meals

Head teachers that have played a key role in ensuring the most vulnerable in their communities have not gone hungry during the pandemic have called the hampers provided to some children on free school meals “absolutely disgraceful,” and believe the Government should look to Yorkshire as Leeds City Council aims to be a flagship for the county when it comes to providing food for the most vulnerable.

Wednesday, 20th January 2021, 2:07 pm

Head teacher Chris Dyson started providing breakfast and lunch to children on free school meals when the first lockdown was introduced. In total, the school has provided 90,000 meals to families in the community.

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Mr Dyson, who has been the head at Parklands Primary School, in the Seacroft area of Leeds, for seven years, says the Government were rightly "embarrassed" by some of the hampers provided to some children on free school meals by private contractors.

Labour has called on the Government to “put your trust in mums and dads” by giving the families of children on free school meals £15 per week to pay for lunches while schools are closed. Photo credit: Getty Images

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post he said: "When you look at the contracts given by the Government to the people who have made millions on this - quite rightly they should be embarrassed by this."

The comments come after outcry last week when images emerged on social media of food parcels containing just £4 or £5 worth of food intended to last a child a week.

While Labour has called on the Government to “put your trust in mums and dads” by giving the families of children on free school meals £15 per week to pay for lunches while schools are closed.

Since the first lockdown Parklands Primary School, which has 68 per cent of pupils receiving free school meals, launched its 'Magic Breakfast,' hamper initiative.

Pictured Chris Dyson, the head at Parklands Primary School. Photo credit: Submitted picture

Each week it sees the roll out of 2,000 boxes of cereal every week, 1000 cartons of orange juice and 2000 bagels.

They school also paired up with The Real Junk Food Project, and in one day, their combined efforts helped to deliver 19.5 tonnes of produce and the equivalent of 35,000 to feed the most vulnerable children across Leeds.

"I wanted to go straight down the root of putting food in bellies," Mr Dyson said.

The school has also been helped by local businesses including restaurant and take-away Sukhothai, which provided more than 200 hot meals for the school, during the October half-term.

Pictured, fresh food arrives at Parklands Primary School, in the Seacroft area of Leeds. Photo credit: Submitted picture

The kind act by the Leeds-based business was retweeted by Marcus Rashford as he was 'blown away' after kind businesses across the country offered to replace free school meals over the half-term.

Mr Dyson, originally from Sheffield, has urged the Government to look at best practice across the country including the hamper roll out by Leeds City Council.

Currently the council provides free school meals for 187 primaries, two high schools and a further education institution and uses an in-house service, Catering Leeds, instead of some of the private firms that have been criticised.

Schools are able to choose whether to go with private providers or the council.

Pictured Chris Dyson, the head at Parklands Primary School, in the Seacroft area of Leeds. He has taken a proactive approach to helping children on free school meals in the Seacroft and Leeds community. Picture submitted

He said: "The Government should be looking at good practice and Leeds has got an absolutely brilliant model that can easily be run out nationwide."

Previously Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council's executive member for learning skills and employment, branded some of the free school meals delivered to children, by private providers, elsewhere in the country a "complete disgrace" - as he showed what Leeds City Council's in-house offering looks like.

In North Yorkshire Chris Kirkham-Knowles, headteacher for Newby and Scalby Primary School in Scarborough, said the school had been able to deliver meals directly to those who most needed it, thanks to its in-house catering team.

The school has also raised more than £2000 for the local Rainbow Centre which provides food and other services to people in need in the Scarborough community.

Mr Kirkham-Knowles said the Government needed to provide a clear approach in terms of "quality provision," for school meals.

He said: "We want people to have the right sort of meals as they move through Covid and schools leaders and business managers and cooks are desperately trying to support those most in need in their communities.

"We need a clear approach in terms of the quality of the provision and I don't think a family within the local community would be too worried about who is providing the food and how the system works as long as it works effectively for them so children aren't going hungry."

Meanwhile in South Yorkshire, Samantha Twiselton, deputy for the Doncaster opportunity area, one of three Yorkshire opportunity areas, alongside Bradford and the North Yorkshire Coast, said the Government should trust parents and provid them directly with extra resources to pay for lunches while schools are closed.

She said: "Parents should be trusted to know how to feed their children most effectively with the extra resources that are made available, just as heads should be trusted when they say this is a really vital issue for the children of Doncaster and elsewhere.

"Schools have been on the frontline of seeing the devastating impact the pandemic and the associated implications has had on families and communities and have been doing all they can to mitigate this.

She added she was "impressed" with how effectively schools within the Doncaster Opportunity Area had collaborated with each other, the council and other agencies to put children’s needs "front and centre".

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the Government is committed to free school meals.

He added: "I want to stress that the overwhelming majority of schools have been successfully providing exceptionally high-quality free school meal support to their pupils.

"However, pictures of food parcels which were circulated last week were simply not acceptable.

"I have met, along with the education minister (Vicky Ford), those who are supplying these parcels and I have left them in no doubt that we expect high-quality food and supplies in those parcels that they deliver.

"Our guidance states that these parcels need to contain certain items which parents can use to make a healthy lunch for any child throughout the week."

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