Teacher reveals he has to spend his own money on 'unacceptable' free school meals in powerful interview

Will Taylor
·News Reporter
·3-min read
Zane Powles, left, has been supplementing free school meals with more food bought out of his and the school's pocket. (PA/Zane Powles/@BootstrapCook/Anonymous submission)
Zane Powles, left, has been supplementing free school meals with more food bought out of his and the school's pocket. (PA/Zane Powles/@BootstrapCook/Anonymous submission)

An assistant headteacher has been buying food to beef up the “woefully inadequate” free school meals sent to a primary school – sometimes from his own pocket.

Photos of meals described as “meagre” and insufficient have been posted to social media by families concerned by the amount offered.

Some have said their packs are supposed to be worth £30 and last two weeks, but items pictured include a bit of fruit, a small offering of vegetables, cheese, a loaf of bread and some sweets. One provider, Chartwells, disputed that a widely-circulated image of a sparse hamper was a £30 package.

It left Twitter users and food poverty campaigners like England footballer Marcus Rashford perplexed and frustrated.

Downing Street said “those food parcels are completely unacceptable” while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described them as “woefully inadequate”.

Read more: Everyone has responsibility to protect vulnerable – Rashford

Zane Powles, of Western Primary School in Grimsby, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme that he was buying up food such as crisps, breakfast bars and yoghurts to pad out the lunches, which he said are not value for parents.

They include a bun, some vegetables, a sweet and a bit of fruit, he added.

He told the station that “we supplement that with other things because we don’t feel that’s quite enough for our children”.

“I was out last night and have been out every night shopping in supermarkets just to add a little bit extra,” he said.

He also criticised the food that was provided in the first lockdown, when he gained recognition for hand-delivering 7,500 free school meals to his pupils, describing it as “samey”.

The assistant head was later given an MBE.

Powles added that he has paid out of his own pocket and used the school’s budget to pay for the supplementary food.

“I don’t think it’s value for money for our families, no, I think they should get more in their packed lunches,” he said.

The school’s meals have been sent in by Chartwells, which came under fire on Tuesday for the quality of its hampers.

The company told Yahoo News UK that while not every photo circulating online is a Chartwells hamper – other companies are involved in the free school meals – it is investigating, and insisted critical photos do not reflect the quality of what it offers.

It added that its hampers were based on the cost of free school meal allowances, which works out at £11.70 a week, and changes will be made now the Department for Education has increased that amount by £3.50 a week.

A spokesperson said: “We take our responsibility to provide children with access to nutritious food very seriously.

“We have worked hard to produce food hampers at incredibly short notice during these challenging times.

“Our hampers follow the DfE specifications and contain a variety of ingredients to support families in providing meals throughout the week. In the majority of instances, we have received positive feedback.

“In this instance, the image on Twitter falls short of our hamper specification and we are keen to investigate with the relevant school so we can address any operational issues that may have arisen.”

Children’s minister Vicky Ford said she is investigating “urgently” while the Department for Education said its “clear guidelines” should result in packages that are “nutritious and contain a varied range of food”.

Watch: The new lockdown rules