Packed lunches: chaotic and costly
Children who bring their own packed lunches to school cost the nation millions of pounds, advocates of school meals say.
Huge sums are being spent on staff to supervise and clear up after the packed-lunch pupils, who cannot be charged anything to offset the costs. Under the new Education Act 1980, schools have to provide free facilities for the children to eat their own food.
The switch to packed lunches is also causing administrative chaos in schools, according to the NAHT heads' union. David Hart, the union's general secretary, told TES this week that heads were furious at being forced to provide free facilities. In practice, he said, this meant that schools would be littered with food parcels.
To add to the cost and the confusion, school-meals organisers are concerned that the packed lunches being brought in by children often consist of junk food. One chief education officer said this week that many children brought "picnics" to school, which were not only of a lower nutritional standard than the school meal but which in many cases must have cost the parents more.
Kay Burgess of the National Association of School Meals Organisers (Nasmo) said: "We feel very strongly that while the government is cutting the subsidy on school meals, it is increasing it for children who bring sandwiches and other packed lunches, which in many cases consist only of crisps, jam rolls and other junk food.
"Huge costs are incurred in looking after these children. People have to be paid to put up tables, stack them again, sweep up and mop up the drink that is spilt. The cost nationally will run into millions."
She added that Baroness Young, junior education minister, had told Nasmo that children who made a mess should clear it up themselves. Mrs Burgess said this was hardly a practical proposition with infants and other young children.
Schools and authorities, mindful of the chaos that sandwich-eaters are causing, are actively trying to discourage parents from giving their children sandwiches, although the new law prevents them from actually forbidding it.