Monday, 27 September 2010

and don't get me started on school dinners.....

Granted I have been a tad busy over the last few weeks as I juggle my family and business with the stuff I have been doing for Save the Children.
But I am getting increasingly peeved with the letters requesting voluntary contributions for school activities that clearly aren't voluntary at all.
Take last week.
On Friday a letter came home with ModelGirl about a Roman Day that was happening the following Monday. I had two days to deck her out in Roman gear, I had to pay £5 for the privilege and I was off to New York.
After a frank discussion regarding timings and the merits of Roman fashion model girl decided that we didn't need to stress and that school uniform was good for her.

So off I went to New York and on Monday Roman day happened. Lucky for all the losers parents like me - they had plenty of spare costumes so that everyone could join in.
The following day I had a text from school asking me to pay my 'voluntary' £5 contribution. Two days later I had another text reminding me that I still hadn't paid my 'voluntary' contribution and then today I got a third text. 
Clearly the contribution is not so voluntary after all.

Is this normal primary school stuff? Does this happen at your child's school?

And then don't even get me started on school dinners...... Jamie might have made them trendy but I think that our school is way off the mark.

My children all attend a state church aided school in a beautiful rural village setting. The food is pretty rank in my own personal opinion but there is no way I'm entertaining making 3 packed lunches every day. So school dinners it is. The issue here is that they cost £1.90 a day. So with three in school that's nearly £30 a week and £354 for the term. The children who qualify for free school meals can be counted on one hand and there is a real negativity around the fact that us parents feel that the education authority are over charging us to make up the deficit in schools where free school meals are the norm.

I would love to know how much your school meals cost - and if you think they are worth it.


  1. I know this isn't what you want to hear when you want your kids to eat the stuff they serve up 1.99 a day, but WHAT is that supposed to be?

    I can see a spoonful of sweetcorn, two - no three - green beans, some soggy looking chips and some slab of cakey type dessert with watery custard. But what is the stuff in the bottom right of the tray - is it the return the famous 'mystery meat' I remember from my schooldays?

  2. Chick's school is exactly the same! 'Voluntary' contributions are nothing of the sort and school dinners are £1.90 per day but they seem to be half decent at her school at least!!!

  3. i have exactly the same problem Sian!

    I pay £30 a week too... that s £120 a month out of a wage im not yet earning! :-(

    I haven't had the chance to "look" at what they look like, but have asked my kids and they all get a porcelain plate and separate bowl for pudding. they all say they like their school dinners too, which must be a good thing, as they're quite fussy eaters!

    for the voluntary contributions, the school dont even say this, they say, "if this trip is to go ahead, and NOT enough parents pay, all the kids will miss out on a great experience" or "if your child attends school on a 'dress up' day, you will be charged the fee reagrdless of if they partake or not!"

    great huh!

  4. Our school dinners cost the same. My kids take packed lunches because we then KNOW what they're eating. My OH is a lunchtime supervisor and the number of children who leave nearly all their dinner is huge - the money is going to waste (not saying yours do this of course).
    The FSM subsidy comes out of the whole ed budget, so strictly speaking, full paying parents aren't subsidising anything.
    As for voluntary contributions, they are just that and it is shameful that school feels the need to chase non-payers. They should be planning events better, making them more affordable, maybe tapping up the PTA/FOA for money. If the school stands to lose out then the event shouldn't go ahead.
    Sorry for the rant - this is one of the biggest bones of contention for parents, many of whom feel obliged to "volunteer" money when actually they are being coerced.
    There is guidance here if you want to kick up a stink:

  5. Our school cafeteria is exactly that. They have more choices than most of the restaurants round here and it is nowhere near as cheap. I am almost forced to make up packed lunches otherwise they don't put together a proper meal. Grrr.

  6. Ours are £1.90 too. The dinners *seem* to be ok. Not that I eat them, but the children don't complain and its not all chips and nuggets, looking at the menu they brought home. There is lemon sole on there, and even a roast chicken dinner once a week!

    Not had any trouble with voluntary contributions as yet. It normally says 'voluntary, but if not enough contributions are made, the activity may be canceled.' I seem to be quite lucky with our schools, it seems!

  7. You appear to have no idea what it is like to have children at school. Whilst you are swanning off on charity funded jollies there will be mothers cutting Mothers Pride and supporting the PTA.

  8. Ours are also 1.90 and there are 3 choices each day. The menus are still based around healthy versions of everything, they have a fish day on Friday, a roast day on Thursday and regular theme days where kids who take packed lunches can have dinner if they pay just for that day.

    I am pretty sure that my kids eat all their food MOST of the time. (Unless they make a bad choice and get something they really don't like) We get the menu sent home tho it goes off-piste quite regularly, so I now discuss what they are going to have. They are liable just to choose pasta every day otherwise.

    Agree with HUN over the vol contributions. The PTFA last year gave money to the school so that all classes had a trip part funded by it. They still asked for contributions but it was £1 per child. It meant that all classes got their trip whereas last year, some of the smaller classes had to cancel theirs.

    The school covers an area that is not as affluent as other parts of the local area. The school realises this and never forces anything on people. Tho I'd love them to sort out the uniforms - certain items can ONLY be bought from them and they push other items as "should haves" when they are entirely optional!

  9. Rachel,
    Quick to cast negativity without knowing the facts. I was class rep for 3 years and have always been part of our PTA. I fundraise and also donated the funds to buy an interactive white board when Sonny joined the school in 4+ because the PTA members all had children in the upper half of the school and did not want to spend any money on the younger classes.

    As for saying that I have been off on charity funded jollies. Wake up. What I have seen and experienced over the last few weeks has been shocking and not one single moment of it could possibly be classed as fun. I am at a total loss as to why anyone would be so shallow to suggest otherwise.

  10. HUN,
    Thank you for your comment. I just wish they would say. This is going to cost you X and you have to pay it by Y instead of chasing you for something you haven't agreed to or signed up for.

  11. @ Rachel - "Mothers cutting Mothers Pride"? - oh the hardship. What are you talking about woman? You make it sound like they're down the mines before breakfast every day. (And I know because I do three every morning, before you start.)

  12. Nat,
    You know my kids are picky eaters and I don't suppose that B eats anything. I hate the thought of her food going in the bin each day. They have three meal choices but their choice isn't always still available when their class gets to eat.
    I'm not sure what the answer is but perhaps not being served on prison style plates would help?

  13. Reply to Sian Mummy-Tips. The thing is they aren't allowed to charge for activities which take place on site during school time. It has to be voluntary.Of course, many parents simply cough up as they see it as supporting the school. Sadly too many schools exploit this good will. Great post btw.

  14. We pay £1.90 for school dinners of which I have actually been on a couple of Themed days and they are ok. Our children eat off plates, not trays which isn't bad as we are seen as being in a deprived area. This money was allocated out of the school budget. I suppose it depends on the view of the head teacher as to what is an important expense

  15. Our packed lunches are £2.05 a day. I have the worlds fussiest eater so do packed lunches as at least I know he'll eat some of it. I'd love him to have some hot lunches in the winter though so that is a battle coming my way shortly... I am very bored of packed lunches!

  16. Rachel. You know who you are and I know who you are. You lurk in the background watching and reading, looking for the right moment to strike.

    I think you should seriously consider staying away from this blog as it is meant only for real people and not twisted individuals who hide behind a made up name.

    Its because of people like you that things in this world may never get better. You are all about self interest and bitter jealousy and not about the victims of this world and the people who are genuinely trying to make a difference.

    In short, you are an idiot.

  17. for anyone who asks... I'm in my office and my hubby is in the kitchen.... I did not solicit his above response though I have to say I whole heartedly agree.

    I didn't realise that they aren't allowed to 'charge' for in school activities. also had to stump up £4.50 per child for art and ICT materials a couple of weeks ago.

  18. Thats really bad that by the time they get to eat their lunch their choice isnt available, in my boys schools they all get to choose between 3 options at beginning of the day and then the dinner ladies make up exactly whats been asked for.
    Roni hates a lot of the options, but thankfully they offer (almost every day, tuna on jacket potato!) which he'd eat for breakfast, lunch & dinner!
    I didnt actually think kids ate of those plastic trays! esp. in the uk! but watching Jamie Oliver's Food revolution the last couple of weeks and seeing the amount waste the american kids waste is awful and that "bang" of the plastic tray is shuddering.
    its sad that they eat off of plastic, that should surely be for picnics only!!! :-)

  19. I am sure a lot of people would be appalled if they knew their charity donations were spent in such a way.

  20. LMAO @ Rachel *face-palm*

    That is all.

    PS I know I should contribute something useful to the ORIGINAL topic of this post, but honestly. The laughter.

  21. Rachel, Charity donations unless restricted can be used for any purpose for the good of the charity. This trip was to publicise the charity and the plight of the needy to a whole new area of people. Twitter, Bloggs. I cannot see what your negative comments are achieving

  22. Who is this Rachel anyway? Have you been following what Sian is exactly doing? Probably not!

  23. Rachel - For me, as well as many others, the blog posts, pictures and tweets from the Bangladesh trip organised by Save the Children introduced me to issues I previously knew little, or nothing about.

    As a direct consequence of this trip, I now donate regularly to Save the Children, and would be more than happy for my donations to be spent raising awareness with more trips in the future.

  24. Rachel. I think you are doing a wonderful job of directing even more traffic to this site. Bravo and well done.

  25. Lisa, Mirka,
    Thank you.
    The lovely 'Rachel's' comments are a sad but true reflection of the world we live in. It is views like hers that allow women and children to be tortured, persecuted and needlessly die every single day.
    Unless we strive to EDUCATE at home and abroad things will never change. xx

  26. Young Mummy,
    Thank you. Before my trip I too was unaware of the shocking conditions that many, many people still live in.
    Do read Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof.

  27. Good post! I get soooo tired of all the 'must have a roman/egyption/tudor (delete as appropriate) costume by 7 days time' stuff. I know, Im a terrible mother. Meh.

    As for swanning off on luxury holidays to Bangladesh or whatever you've been up to... shame on you for highlighting the issues many of us knew nothing about. But perhaps this isn't the appropriate forum for me to criticise you as I know I will just draw even more attention to the work you've been doing and draw fire from other bloggers in the process. Silly me.

  28. It appears that 'Rachel' and her idiocy have hijacked the post, so I'll deal with her first. I can only assume that she is a jealous rival blogger or someone that knows you and has a grudge. As such she deserves no more notice and we should all try to ignore her. Enough said.

    Back to your post....

    I have six teenagers in secondary school and a 4yr old in primary school. I have the same problems in regard to 'voluntary contributions'. You can imagine how much it costs me in such contributions per term! Voluntary my eye. They chase up any parents that don't contribute until it's paid in full.

    All six of my teenagers enjoy their school dinners (£1.90 each per week)as there is rather a wide choice at their secondary school. My 4yr old, however, won't touch his school dinners with someone else's bargepole! I'm not sure whether it's because it's "nasty 'orrible" (as he calls it!) or because he's such a fussy so-and-so. Regardless, he has a packed lunch and it's staying that way, for now ;-)

  29. Michelloui,
    Lets stick together in the bad mummy camp. I am surprised that 'Rachel' hasn't accused me of neglecting my kids too.
    Sure it won't be long!

  30. hiya hen, its me, i couldnt beleive the picture of that plate of so called food, I think its the same amount spent on foos at nursery, we have lovely homecooked meals, plenty of fruit and breakfast if the kids want it, and also i would like to say, I would never have been brave enough to witness the things you saw on your "jollies" so Rachel get a life, this is britian and we are lucky, we can and have the right to complain about things we are not happy with, so get a life, Sian I think this is a very boring person, who might be a tin wee bit jealous of you xxx

  31. oooooohhhhhhhh love it. and yep, you're right yan. rachels comments are why im here having a nose.

    i think someone may be a little jealous..... or maybe just bitter?

    either which way, the coverage you all got for your 'jollie' has been amazing. i salute you!

  32. OMG that school dinner looks disgusting. Think they should pay your kids to eat it, not the other way round. There is no way I could entertain even trying it!!!!

    I also think that Rachael needs to go get a life !!

  33. Zee,
    OMG - I will stop complaining. The thought of 6 teenagers gives me palpitations - let alone the money demands that their schooling brings.

    Thank you for your kind words BTW.

  34. I should just say that the person that has come up as Anon - is my friend Rose.. she won't mind me saying and she would be a rubbish hateful anon cause she writes Scottish and that's a sure give away!

    Chair Lover - what can I say? You are nosey!

    Ealzie - I love you and that's all. I will drop by to see you tomorrow on my way home from meeting. Have Half the Sky for you. xx

  35. Sian,

    You're very welcome. I'm a fairly new follower of your blog, and Twitter, so I'm still catching up.

    Of my six teens, one has Asperger's Syndrome, one just upped and moved in with her imbecilic boyfriend (although she's still in school, at least for now) and there is a set of twins.

    My life is NEVER dull! To top that, I've just been diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. See, I always knew I wasn't crazy like the voices said I was (har har!).

    I think that what you are doing with the Blogladesh campaign is bloody fantastic, anyone who disagrees needs their head read (as my gran used to say). You have taken time out from your life, your children, your family, to try to make a DIFFERENCE in a place where the things that we take for granted are not commonplace. I applaud you all.

    If only more of us, myself included, had more gumption!

  36. Zee,
    You are obviously a very strong lady. Bipolar is not something that I would wish on anyone. Crazy (!) that you have only just been diagnosed.

    My blog is a bit of a crazy corner - so you are ALWAYS welcome here. Do you have a blog and what is you Twitter? (if you have them that is..)

  37. Sian,

    Dunno about strong....I think I'm just one of those get-on-with-it types, with the occasional (!) panicked freak-out.

    I tweet as MummyOfSeven. My blog's not up-and-running yet as I've only just decided to 'keep' one. Any and all tips will be greatly appreciated, by any of you!

  38. Up here! school dinners are a minimum of 2.99+ per day... no olives, tapas or Jamie O in sight... Tarporley, Cheshire...he doesnt want mummys packed lunch (which might include olives lol!) because all friends are having school lunches... i do think its rather steep though, and we seem to be the most expensive having looked at the above posts!!!

  39. I think £1.90 is cheap. I don't think I could put a pack lunch together for that. I guess the more kids you have the more it costs but that's not rocket science assuming you chose to have those children and the state didn't order you to have them. Children are expensive to run.

    When The Grenade was in state education I paid for everything they asked for without thinking about it. You have kids they need to be educated and the state provides free education, which is of varying degrees of quality depending on where you live.

    If you have kids we as their parents are responsible to ensure their best interests are served and protected. I was naive when my son started school I felt it was the school's job to educate him but actually now I see that it was my job to support the school because they didn't have the resources.

    We take so much for granted in Britain. In the end I put him in private education and we are still bearing the financial brunt of the decision, although now it is supplemented by the MOD to ensure continuity. It is his 5th school after all and he is only 7 yrs. I just plan to work really hard to pay off the debt. Fortunately, the Bank of Scotland's is greater - it gives me solace.

    Even in the private system I still have to work alongside the school to ensure that he is able to deliver his day and advance his learning.

    I hadn't realised how spoilt, selfish and lazy I was until I saw that my son wasn't reaching his potential. We had to pull our socks up, focus on his routine and give him the structure he needed. We needed to give him the support to help navigate his way to realise his potential. Only another 11 years to go! I now realise that supporting your child's learning and development is an essential and also making sure they have costumes. I didn't have a mum - she died when I was 2 and my dad just didn't have the emotional intelligence to do the costumes - it wasn't important to him but it was important to me. I hated not having the costumes, I missed my mum, in my heart I thought if she was alive she would have cared enough to make sure I had a costume.

    I hate doing this sort of crap too but I step up to the plate and always make sure I deliver when I can for my boy, because it tells him that he is cared for and loved and hopefully that will give him a securer platform then I had.

  40. We pay £1.75 a day and so far so good (my Little Man has only been having school dinners for just over two weeks). He eats it if he likes it, if he doesn't he has a sandwich and fruit. I actually had the opportunity to see him and his little mates eating lunch today as I had to collect him early after a bump on the head. The all looked really happy and all, including my LM, were tucking in very happily. He told me he'd had a hamburger (will confirm tomorrow) and was sent out with a piece of apple. I think we may be quite lucky as the caterers are newly appointed and the smells coming from the kitchen most mornings makes my tummy grumble.

  41. I love this post. I have been interested in your travels with Save the Children. Thank you for sharing that opportunity with the rest of us.

    About the 'donation' for voluntary costuming, perhaps you could send a note or call the school and tell them your donation has gone to Save the Children because your daughter(s) chose not to participate instead wanting their money to go towards that....especially in light of the fact that they can't force you to pay for that.

  42. Our school dinners were £2.20 and were of much better quality, but the company went out of business so we all have to do packed lunches now. I didn't realise the budgets are government controlled and could be spread between schools to make up for free school meals elsewhere. Makes me think I should be asking our school why there are no hot meals....

    I forgot to pay a school trip contribution once but wasn't chased for it. I think it's wrong for the school to chase parents, a gentle reminder is ok for the disorganised types like me but anything else is not. But, a fellow mum was telling me she has to pay £300 for her daughter's end of year residential trip. I think that's absolutely ridiculous for a primary school! If she doesn't pay, the child can't go and everyone else will go and have this great time without her. That seems totally wrong to me.

  43. Our kids school invited us in last year to try out the school meals one lunchtime for free. Beyond disgusting, and that was when they were trying to impress us. The food gave bland a bad name

  44. My daughter attended 2 different state primary schools and the difference in lunch standards was marked. At her small village school she was given a half terms meal planner from which she could choose what to have for lunch. Each day there was a traditional choice,(meat and 2 veg), a "modern" option and a vegetarian option. The emphasis was on locally grown produce and healthy eating. Both my husband and I were secretly quite envious that she was able to eat such good food at such a reasonable cost. When we asked her how her day was at school, she couldn't wait to wax lyrical about how delicious her meal had been that day.
    At her school in the city we didn't know from one day to the next what our daughter was eating. She never seemed to remember when she got home. This didn't unduly concern us, until the day she came home and told us about the hairy meat she had eaten that day!!!!When questioned further we discovered that the meat in the stew had basically been gristle with, yes, hairs still attached.
    Later that week we received a letter from the school that had been issued to all parents advising that the catering company was to be replaced and that they hoped all parents would continue to support school dinners in the interim. We swapped her to packed lunches the next day!

    What I find frustrating is that at each school the cost for a lunch was pretty much the same, but that there seems to be no nationwide standard for school dinners. I was also shocked that it could be entirely possible for a child to have a school dinner and manage to eat next to no fruit or veg. After all the reports that exist that demonstrate the correlation between good diet and academic achievement, I really feel that our children are being let down.

    And don't get me started on *voluntary* contributions. I just wish that the school would be straight and say pay this amount on this date end of.

  45. My daughter won't have school dinners so she has a packed lunch.

    What I'd really like to say is, Sian, I love you, you're a star, an amazing lady doing an incredible thing and I am so so proud of you. Never forget that or lose sight of what you have achieved. x

  46. At the infant school it costs £2 a day for a dinner and you can either order in advance or pay on the day on an ad hoc basis. My daughter is the sort of kid who will eat pretty much anything and she used to beg me to have school dinners! I used to usually let her once or twice a week (usually when hubby was away & I discovered we had mouldy bread,lol!)

    At the junior school none of the kids want to have the school dinners as they eat in their classrooms with their firends and the kids that have hot dinner have to go to the hall to eat.

    When I was a kid and my mum worked full time she used to make us make sandwiches for a half term all at once in the holidays. we used to colour code them so we knew what was in them (we could choose) and then they were frozen in plastic bags. Each morning we took out our frozen sandwiches which would have defrosted by lunchtime. It is only as I am typing this I realise how weird that actually was!!! haha!!

  47. Juicytots,
    Your comment made me laugh. We used to have frozen sandwiches too. i actually find that totally grim now!

  48. Um...I make 3 'interesting' pack lunches.. Monday-Thursday and then let my kids have a greasy-spoon lunch on a Friday at £3-£4 each, otherwise for the 3 of them it would cost a small fortune.
    To be fair my older girls state school provide excellent food by the catering company 'Cucina'. Homemade pizza/ fish in lemonade batter/ Beetroot brownies.. very 'Jamie'.

  49. Hello!! I can't confess to having read every one of the 50 posts but would love to jump in!
    We're still at nursery stages but bear just moved up a class and our invoice had £6.60 added for three weeks of pyjama drama. We're really happy to pay it but it's just nice if someone thinks to tell you about it rather than wowing you with this amazing activity they get to do and then just sending you a bill!
    I've been watching Jamie's food revolution on TV and only hope the school we send bear to has sensible meals and not sloppy joes!
    As for the piffle some people seem intent on adding to other people's blogs - if someone invites you on a 'jolly' to somewhere like Bangladesh, let's see if you would go. I'm a nice person and I'd be terrified to go, these people deserve our respect.

  50. p.s. I'm not very good at this, hope it came across as intended - just wanted to say that all those like Sian who are helping causes like Blogladesh deserve our support and gratitude x

  51. I was really interested in this post & all the comments Sian so I've posted a bit of a response!

  52. All really interesting Sian. I find school dinners particularly interesting with younger children - does anyone actually monitor what they are eating or are they just left to it?
    One head I spoke to recently said that you just don't need to worry with middle class children because you know they'll be getting proper food in the morning and after school...
    PS Voluntary contributions should have "" around the word "voluntary"....

  53. I hve the same bugbear with school dinners ( see )

    Where I live, they seem to be getting worse: smiley faces are back, burger and sausage rolls. Complaints fall on deaf ears at the local authority ...

    As for the voluntary contributions, please do take it up with the headteacher and the goerning body. As a parent governor, I'd much rather someone say something outright instead of complaining on the playground - that way something could be done. Also, if you think £5 is too much (or however much the "voluntary contribution" is), offer what you think is reasonable. I know a lot of parents who do that ...

  54. Rakhi to

    Tremendous article,
    numerous good quality information. I am about to show my pals and
    ask them what they think.

  55. Tremendous article,
    numerous good quality information. I am about to show my pals and
    ask them what they think.

  56. Rakhi Gifts to India1 May 2013 at 12:13

    A very good and
    interesting post that i have come across, thanks for sharing the post.

    Really appreciable.


Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Appreciated as always. xx


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