School dinners debt clampdown at Sunderland academy after overspending pupils run into the red at lunchtimes

A Sunderland school is launching a new ‘no debt’ policy for school meals in a bid to stop pupils overspending.

By Sue Kirby
Monday, 25 February, 2019, 05:00
St Aidan's Catholic Academy.

St Aidan’s Catholic Academy has written to parents saying they will introduce the policy after half term.

Under the system children will not be provided with a school lunch unless it is paid for, except those that are entitled to free school meals.

If a parent forgets to pay in advance, the school will grant an allowance of one meal and the balance must be paid the next day.

The Wearside boys’ school says the policy will hopefully help prevent students from spending their lunch money in the wrong way, such as at the shop on the way into school.

Headteacher Kevin Shepherd, said in the letter: “If debts are incurred, then the school budget has to pay for them. This means that money which should be spent on the children’s education is used to cover these costs.

“We hope that by implementing this policy we are able to help parents manage school dinner money better and at the same time ensure that all money that is for children’s learning is available.”

However, the school has stressed that it will continue to do everything possible to support families who are struggling financially.

Madeleine Hope, finance director at St Aidan’s, said: “St Aidan’s is a caring and compassionate school and we are unwavering in our commitment to support vulnerable pupils and those facing hardship either at school or in our local community.”

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She said around a quarter of pupils are entitled to free school meals and staff are always happy to help carers with the application process.

Ms Hope said: “Where we are aware of families facing temporary hardship who do not qualify for free meals, we are happy to work with parents to support them during this difficult time.”

She said the majority of pupils are in credit on their meal account, but there is a small number who have accrued a debt on it.

The school says the no debt policy has been adopted by many schools across the country.

Ms Hope said: “The majority of parents pay for school meals online and some opt to have a daily limit on their son’s account to prevent pupils from overspending.

“Where pupils don’t have a daily limit, they sometimes spend more than their parent would expect them to.

“Some parents give their son cash on a daily basis which they can spend in school, but we are aware that some pupils spend their dinner money on their way in to school and then have no lunch money. We don’t allow pupils to go hungry so it means pupils will then have a debt to repay.

“We hope that by enforcing this policy, parents who are struggling to manage their son’s meal account will work with the school to resolve any difficulties.”

Parents should contact the school if they need support with any issues and they can get support in applying for free meals, paying online, creating a daily spending limit on their child’s account or using the school app to keep an eye on daily spending.