School meal changes pass pupil taste test

Herald Series: Windmill head Lynn Knapp with from back right, Merle Cox, Douggie Bryce, Kacey Hadley, Isabel Miskin and Corey Williamson  Picture: OX54254 Damian Halliwell Buy this photo » Windmill head Lynn Knapp with from back right, Merle Cox, Douggie Bryce, Kacey Hadley, Isabel Miskin and Corey Williamson Picture: OX54254 Damian Halliwell

YOUNGSTERS and teachers tucking into new school meals have given them the thumbs up.

This is the first term of privatised school dinners in Oxfordshire – and now the company which has taken over the service is looking to expand to more schools.

Until July 1, school meals in 179 primary, special and nursery schools across the county were provided by Oxfordshire County Council ’s in-house catering service, Food With Thought.

Following consultation, the contract to provide the meals – along with other services – was won by Carillion Plc.

As part of the deal, the company agreed to drop the price per meal from £2.10 to £2, and pledged to maintain nutritional standards.

Lynn Knapp, headteacher at Windmill Primary School in Headington, said the school currently served about 150 meals each day.

She said: “I think the price drop is always good – as long as the quality of the meals is kept the same.

“I am concerned that they don’t eat into the quality of the lunch and I wonder how they can manage on a cheaper budget, but it is too early to say at the moment.”

At Thameside Primary School, Abingdon, about 30 per cent of pupils have school dinners – which has risen over the past 12 months from 22 to 23 per cent.

Headteacher Joseph Rubba said: “In terms of the quality, it’s early days but I haven’t noticed anything different.

“We do welcome the price drop, especially during these very difficult times for many of our families, you just don’t want to compromise the quality.

“We have had assurances that won’t happen and so far we have been very pleased.”

In the past three years to July 2012, the uptake of school meals has grown by between four to five per cent, according to Oxfordshire County Council spokesman Paul Smith, with 12,500 school meals now served a day.

The county council has kept control over pricing and nutritional value of meals.

Previously Food With Thought made a surplus – about £900,000 a year – which was ploughed back into council funds, which Mr Smith said meant meal costs to parents could be cut without cutting down on quality.

Carillion’s Jane Smith said: “We have not changed the menu so the quality and nutritional content remains high.

“While we have continued with the local and regional suppliers, we now have access to a nationwide supply chain with the numerous benefits this brings.”

She said the firm was keen to expand its service to other primary schools in the county and was also talking to secondaries and academies.

Carterton Primary School has provided its own sandwich service for the past four or five years, as there is no kitchen on site. Headteacher Mike Curtis said: “We would not be looking into changing unless they could find a reasonable away around not having kitchen facilities. We have had no approaches from Carillion and the system we have seems to be working well.”

David Lewin, headteacher at Wood Farm Primary School, Oxford, welcomed the drop in price and added: “We have certainly not seen any change in quality and I know they are quite clear they will maintain the quality.

“I would hope it would lead to better take-up.”

  • FIVE-YEAR-OLDS at one Oxford primary school have been tucking in with gusto.

Windmill Primary School pupil Douggie Bryce, from Headington, said: “I like all of my dinners and I can’t think of anything I don’t like. I really like fish and chips.”

Five-year-old Merle Cox, from Headington, said: “I think all the school dinners are good. I really like the roast dinner on a Wednesday.”

Kacey Hadley, from Wood Farm, said the roast dinners were her favourite.

Five-year-old Isabel Miskin, from Headington, said she didn’t always like school dinners. She said: “Sometimes the potatoes aren’t cooked properly. But I love the fish and chips and crumble and custard.”

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