Farmer Paul Williams loses two hours of his working day so daughter Jessica can have the hot meal her school can’t provide.
The eight-year-old is one of scores of children being denied a cooked lunch in Preston because some primary school kitchens can’t cope with the Government’s new policy of free dinners for all infants.
Dad Paul is forced to drop what he is doing on the family farm in Freckleton and make a 10-mile trip to St Andrew’s Primary in Ashton just to make sure young Jessica gets a proper midday meal.
“I take her to a local carvery, or to a cafe so she can have hot food,” he said. “We don’t want her having sandwiches every day – and she doesn’t want them either.”
The kitchens at Jessica’s school are undergoing major refurbishment to cater for the extra demand.
St Andrew’s has seen its meals service double from around 100 to more than 200 this term due to the new policy.
It is a similar situation at Walton-le-Dale Primary School where Key Stage One pupils are being given sandwiches and fruit while new kitchens are fitted. Across Lancashire education bosses admit there have been “teething troubles” serving free meals to 40,000 infant pupils.
But it could be the end of the year before improvements are finished and all children can be fed.
“We’ve asked parents and pupils to bear with us while we make arrangements and, on the whole, they’ve been extremely understanding of the scale of the task facing us,” said Susanne Hesketh, head of St Andrew’s.
“After the October break, we’ll phase in hot meals for the juniors and we’re very hopeful that everything will be fully operational by Christmas.”
The Williams say only infants and those juniors who get free school meals are getting hot dinners. Pupils who normally pay £11 a week for cooked food have been told to bring a packed lunch.
“Jessica has a packed lunch two days a week and on the other three I drive 10 miles into Preston, pick her up, take her for lunch, drop her back to school and then drive back to the farm,” said Paul. “It’s hard work, but I’d rather she had a proper hot meal – especially when the weather gets colder.
“What gets me is the education authority has known about this new policy for 12 months and it’s only now they are extending the kitchens. I’ve talked to other parents and they aren’t happy either.”