“What was promised has not transpired,” said Trevor Davies, headteacher at Pamphill First School when talking about the hot school meals being provided, or not as in Pamphill’s case, under new legislation from the start of term.
“We are now only receiving cold packed lunches,” he continued. “Parents have expressed their frustration and some have even reverted back to providing their children with a packed lunch.”
Since the introduction of free school meals for all five, six and seven-year-olds, some Dorset schools have had issues around the quality and delivery of the meals, produced by catering company Chartwells.
Dorset County Council’s Cabinet member for education, Cllr Toni Coombs called a meeting on 11 September. She said: “We had all three councils from the affected areas in a room with Chartwells and there’s a real desire to work together and get the issues resolved. We asked some tough questions and there was a recognition that performance had not met our requirements. Right now, we are concentrating on ensuring that children have their meals each day – even if they have to be packed lunches in the short term. Chartwells will continue to monitor the situation very closely and will be in daily contact with the affected schools.”
Trevor Davies will be pleased to hear that. “It’s very disappointing at the moment with the delays and lack of communication,” he said. “Once the meals arrive, the children like them, but hot dinners only arrived in the first week of term and it was not a good service. Lateness was a big issue and made the experience very stressful for staff trying to organize children. Late lunches create a knock on effect and affect education. It’s been disruptive.”
Although Mr Davies is sympathetic about the fire that had burnt down one of Chartwells’ units in Ferndown this summer, he said “We were expecting a service and it is very disappointing at the moment.”
Chartwells say their new kitchen being built in Poole will be ready by October half term, but that doesn’t help those who are struggling with deliveries that are not up to scratch. Both Ferndown First and Parley First have admitted to having problems with late deliveries and receiving wrong food.
Cllr Coombs added: “We will be making sure that all schools affected by this situation are compensated by Chartwells for the inconvenience that has been caused. All three councils and Chartwells understand and regret the impact this has had on schools and I’d like to assure them that we are working as quickly as we can to get this right and are very grateful for their patience and understanding.”
Managing Director of Chartwells, Robin Mills said: “We completely understand the concern and inconvenience that this has caused and we have apologised to those affected.”
In contrast to the disruption experienced in Ferndown, West Parley and Pamphill, it seems West Moors has fared better.
Headteacher of Oakhurst First School, Mrs Melanie Davy said, “We recognise we are in a much more fortunate situation than many of the local schools with the implementation of universal infant free school meals. All our children who opted for a hot meal have received one since the start of term and the children have really been enjoying the meals provided. It has been a significant change for us but with the commitment and dedication of our staff our children have not been unduly affected by the teething problems.”
The schools that are still struggling with erratic deliveries may be reassured by Chartwells’ recent claim that they are making improvements each day to the service. “On Wednesday, 10 September, we delivered a good service to 90% of the schools in the county and have brought in additional teams to ensure we rapidly improve the experience for the remaining 10% of schools,” said Robin Mills.
“We are doing everything in our power to rectify this situation and we will continue to keep the councils, schools and parents updated.”