Yorkshire primary school criticised for 'heavy-handed' packed lunch rules

An Yorkshire school has been branded 'heavy-handed' with its approach to healthy eating amid claims pupils' packed lunches are being routinely inspected, with unhealthy snacks bagged-up and handed back to parents.

A fed-up mother of four, whose children attend Westgate Primary, in Otley, says she is considering launching a petition urging the school to review its strict packed lunch policy, which was brought in last September.

Although she believes in promoting healthy eating and being proactive, she argues that the school should offer guidance without discriminating others in a way that doesn’t “undermine” parents.

The mother, who does not wish to be named, said: “The teaching assistants take at least half-an-hour inspecting children’s packed lunches in the morning while wearing rubber gloves.

“Kids as young as eight are being given the responsibility to ‘advise’ and tell on their friends if they have inappropriate items in their lunch.

“If an item is removed it is bagged-up with the child’s name and given to parents at the end of the day.

“The school says lunches have improved, they have, but at the expense of parents and children who are scared stiff of taking the wrong thing.”

The school currently uses a traffic light system, featuring foods listed in red, amber and green categories. Red features banned items, including crisps and cereal bars, amber includes foods that are allowed occassionally, such as sausage rolls and plain biscuits, and green foods, like meat and vegetables, can feature as often as parents choose.

The mother, who works full-time and says she often has to go out late at night if she realises she has run out of green or amber food items, said: “It’s double standards, as children with these healthy packed lunches can be sat next to a child having hot school dinners who is eating sponge pudding and custard. How do you explain that to a six-year-old who has just had a cereal bar taken off him?"

She added that there are two other schools in the cluster - Pool and Bramhope - who have adopted the policy, but take a less strict approach.

Helen Carpenter, headteacher at the school, said: “Encouraging healthy eating amongst our pupils is really important to us here at Westgate Primary School, therefore we have adopted a packed lunch policy, like many other schools, with a view to ensuring our pupils have a healthy, balanced and nutritious lunch.

“The policy is designed to support the different needs that exist within families including budget and time constraints and we take a flexible approach in individual cases where children have significant food issues.

“We only remove items with high fat or sugar content and replace with a healthy alternative. The majority of our parents are very supportive of this policy and since it was introduced there has been a noticeable increase in the amount of fruit and vegetables in packed lunches.”

It comes after a Bradford primary’s decision to ban sausage rolls and other unhealthy foods from lunchboxes sparked a major debate on healthy eating in schools last week.

The new policy at Shirley Manor Primary Academy states parents will be called if banned foods are found in packed lunches.

The Government sets national healthy eating standards for most schools in the country. They ban more than two portions of deep-fried, battered or breaded food a week, as well as chocolates or sweets in vending machines, but schools are able to set their own policies on packed lunches.