What follows is the text of a a letter sent to Bitterne Park Secondary School, Southampton on 29th September 2014.
Dear Mrs Trigger,
I am writing to you because one of my children was not able to eat any lunch last Thursday: a situation seemingly caused by inadequate facilities at the school. This is completely unacceptable. In discussing the situation with my three children I have found out about other aspects of the catering arrangements which also concern me. I am publishing this letter on my blog (http://blog.scphillips.com) in order that other parents may contribute their experience and so I am using the letters “T”, “F” and “R” to refer to my children in order to preserve some anonymity.
Basically, from what I understand, the queue to be served lunch in the canteen is so long that it takes most of the lunch break to queue and be served. Not wanting to spend the whole 35 minutes queueing, F prefers to socialise for most of the lunch break and queue up near the end of the period. Generally he eats his food on the way to and during the 5 minutes registration period outside of the classroom (with others) as his tutor does not mind. On Thursday last week the queue at the end of lunch was still too long and F did not get served and hence went hungry.
Another of my children, T, tells me that when she has school lunches she queues from the start of the period and very often has to throw food away uneaten as there is not enough time to eat it. When the bell goes, she eats some more of her food on the way to registration and then puts the rest in a bin before she gets there (along with the disposable container and cutlery that all the children use every day) as food is not permitted in classrooms.
My other child, R, only tried school lunches once. She spent almost all of the lunch break queueing, bought a curry, ate a few mouthfuls and then the bell went so she had to leave the rest. This was a while ago. She now knows that her tutor lets children eat their lunch in the classroom during registration time as her tutor thinks it is not right that they do not have enough time.
It just is not acceptable that children are regularly not able to get an adequate lunch. In my opinion, lunchtime should be an opportunity for social interaction as well as food, but even the basic necessity of being able to eat food is lacking. It seems clear that there is a serious problem at your school. I guess it has been caused by the catering facilities not keeping up with the expansion in school numbers and, increasingly, children not being allowed off-site in the lunch break. My main question is:
Last term I corresponded with members of staff about the biometric system you introduced. One of the main reasons for installing it given in both the school’s information and by the vendor of the system was that it would speed up lunchtime queues. At the time I suggested that it most likely would not (as the evidence from my children suggested that actually getting served was the bottleneck) and enquired as to why the lunch break was so short. I ask again: why is the lunch break only 35 minutes? I do understand that extending the lunch break time would also mean extending the length of the school day. I can also see that this would cut into extra-curricular activity time after school, but, as I said last term, surely actually getting children fed is the most important thing and the school still seems to be failing in this regard.
I am aware that I am perhaps overloading this letter with questions but I am also concerned that there are vending machines in the school containing crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks. Similar machines were removed when the government’s “Healthy School” scheme was running from September 2006 but returned sometime after April 2011 when the scheme closed. Why are these vending machines there? Surely the school should strive to be healthy regardless of government schemes?
I would appreciate it if you could carefully address each of my questions (highlighted).
Yours sincerely, Dr S Phillips.
Since then I have written another short post about the topic more generally.