Parents Have Been Told To Bake Their Own Bread With Flour In Free School Meal Food Parcels
Parents receiving food parcels from a London academy chain set up by a former Tory minister have been given meagre pots of flour and told to bake their own bread.
Rather than supplying families with a loaf of bread, the academy instructs low income families receiving free school meals to bake eight bread rolls, which could take up to an hour to make.
The parcel and smartly designed and printed menu cards, sent out by a Future Academy chain school Pimlico Academy, has upset one parent who thinks it is a humiliating way to receive food.
“This is disgraceful what they’re choosing to do to us," they told PoliticsHome.
“It’s a really nice printed recipe book with really nice pictures on it. So the time and money they spent on printing on those papers, it’s just ridiculous.
“If they just give us a £15 voucher I can get five days of food and it will be more nutritional than what they are providing to us.
“It’s very humiliating. Why would you decide for us? Why not give us the money? Last time we used the vouchers and it worked well. And it’s not true you can spend it how you like – for example you couldn’t buy ice-cream. It has to be nutritional food. It’s regulated.
“For the bread rolls, you need to spend 15 minutes kneading this bread, then time to prepare it, then in the oven.”
The Future Academy chain was set up by former Tory academies minister, and now peer, Baron John Nash. He is on the chair of governors at Pimlico Academy, as is his wife Caroline.
The parent said the parcel for their teenage child was not refrigerated when they picked it up and has concerns that the cheese, which is intended to be used throughout the week, would not last. According to the menu card 100g of cheese is expected to be used for a jacket potato and an omelette.
Another recipe recommends using 10g of tomato soup powder as a sauce for pasta.
One onion, carrot and green pepper is suggested for one meal of stir fried rice, another meal of vegetable noodles, and to put into the pasta sauce.
The parent said: “I’ve got to use the oven to cook about three spoonfuls of rice. This is a very inefficient way of cooking.”
The furore over free school meal parcels came after company Chartwells was shamed by Premier League footballer and food poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford for the quality of their ‘hampers’. Chartwells apologised after an emergency meeting with the Department of Education, and said they would provide refunds when the boxes fell short of standards.
On Wednesday, Rashford tweeted that following a meeting with Boris Johnson, he had secured a commitment from the prime minister "to correcting the issue with the food hampers and that a full review of the supply chain is taking place".
Johnson, whose government resisted calls to provide free school meals vouchers during the holidays last year, has condemned the inadequate food parcels, telling the House of Commons he found the images shared on social media "disgraceful".
Images of the food parcels from a variety of providers have been shared by angry parents online.
Parcels for the Pimlico Academy are provided by Impact Food Group, and according to a spokesperson for the Future Academy chain meet standards outlined by Department for Education guidance.
The parent who spoke to PoliticsHome has three children, and gets two boxes for their teenagers who attend Pimlico Academy. Their primary school aged child, who goes to another school in the academy chain’s group, has not yet received any kind of parcel since lockdown began.
One parent needs to isolate in the family’s home in Pimlico because of a pre-existing illness, so the other parent and three children are living with family in a nearby borough. Since the collection times are different for pupils of different ages, one box must be collected on a Wednesday and the other is on a Friday, which would involve two bus trips there and back costing £3.
The oldest child has told his family he is too ashamed to stand in a queue to collect theirs.
“My boys, they said we’re not going to queue, our friends will see us in the area. They’ll think we’re homeless,” they said.
“You’ve got to go and queue in the cold to get it,” they said.
The parent believes vouchers would be far better and allow them to shop more economically for their child – for example bread rolls are very cheap to buy, rather than spending an hour baking them. They also question that the value of the food given out truly is £15 which is what the government has provided for.
The school said in a letter “our chefs are always on site, so if you get stuck, feel free to ask for some advice”.
A spokesperson for Future Academies told PoliticsHome the chain is committed to providing healthy balanced food for students across lunchtime free school meals, as well as a free breakfast clubs and fruit when schools are open as normal.
"We have put in place our own voucher scheme for our families from the 18th of January 2021," a spokesperson said in a statement.
"Following the Prime Minister’s statement on the 4th January, we have been in ongoing dialogue with Impact Food Group, who provide the food contract to our Pimlico schools, to raise our concerns about both the quality and content of the food parcels.
"Catering in our academies is provided by external companies, our caterers are providing food parcels that meet the DFE guidelines and school food standards. However, following feedback this week, we have asked our caterers to improve the quality of the parcels that that they are providing, so that they surpass the minimum standards whilst we replace with a voucher scheme.
"We stand together with our parents and families in demanding better for our most vulnerable children who are self-isolating at home in this challenging time."
A spokesperson for Cucina, the branch of Impact Food Group providing free school meals said: "Cucina did not provide flour in our food parcels; however, we did provide bread mix into the parcels sent out from Pimlico Academy.
"The intention behind this was to help parents create an interactive cooking experience with their children and to help with some food education at home. Water is the only additional ingredient required and a full recipe was provided.
"We received positive feedback on this during the first lockdown and so continued to provide this for the most recent parcels. We are very sorry if parents feel that this is unsuitable and we apologise unreservedly if we caused any distress, it was certainly not our intention."
The Department for Education and Local Authority for Pimilco Academy have been contacted for comment.