Teething problems plague UIFSM scheme in first week

The headteacher of a school in Dorset has branded the free meals policy a “fiasco” after pupils went hungry on their first day back this week.

Bob Duffin, who runs Cheselbourne Village School near Dorchester, said food delivered to the school on day one of the new term arrived more than an hour and a half late.

He said contract caterer Chartwells was due to deliver the food at 12pm, but it didn’t turn up until 1.30pm and comprised of sandwiches rather than the hot food it was expecting.

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Describing it as a “fiasco”, Mr Duffin told the Dorset Echo: “It’s unacceptable and really shoddy treatment. We go to great lengths to make sure the children feel happy and safe and it’s not good to start off their time at school by going hungry.

“We kept them going with fruit and biscuits but it’s not ideal. When the food did finally arrive it was tuna or cheese sandwiches and a chocolate brownie, which is hardly a balanced meal.

The paper named at least two other schools that suffered delays in receiving meals, but another said there had been no problems. It said Chartwells was unavailable for comment.

The start of the Universal Free School Meals Initiative this week is the culmination of a £1bn investment by the government and a summer of kitchen re-fits at thousands of schools across the land.

But the scheme hasn’t been without its controversy. The industry has accused the programme of being massively underfunded, forcing schools to raid other budgets in order to pay for catering equipment.

There have also been reports of canteen renovations over-running and deliveries of equipment such as tables and chairs failing to turn up on time.

Several catering distributors that Catering Insight spoke to this week said they expected school-related work to run into October either because decisions were made late or schools had run out of time.

However, the Department for Education said only 239 out of 16,500 schools would be providing a cold meal instead of a hot one this week.

Lib Dem schools minister David Laws insisted the scheme was a “massive success”. He said: “I am absolutely delighted that our statistics, which come from local authorities and schools, show that 98.5 per cent of schools across the country — 16,500 schools — are delivering a hot meal option from the start of term.”

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