‘Lessons learnt’ after Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle row over children in debt not being fed school meals
Gareth Wyn Williams, local democracy reporter
“Lessons have been learnt” following Ysgol Dyffyn Nantlle’s school meals fiasco, according to Gwynedd education chiefs.
Last month a high profile row emerged at Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle after the headteacher, Neil Foden, wrote to parents threatening to deny meals to pupils who were 2p in debt.
But in light of unprecedented media attention, Mr Foden claimed the authority had “thrown him under the bus” after stressing that his letter was based on Gwynedd Council’s own advice.
Stating in the letter that “a handful of pupils had run up debts totalling more than £1,800,” he added, “I am sorry that we have had to take these steps but the scale of the default means that something clearly has to be done.”
With intervention coming from the likes of Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford, Gwynedd Council released a subsequent statement apologising for “the worry and concern” caused by its wording.
The authority went on to admit that the advice provided by the education department “created a lack of clarity” and would review its guidance to schools as a result.
But while welcoming Welsh Government plans to introduce free school meals at primary level, a recent meeting of the authority’s Education and Economy Scrutiny
Committee also heard more on the fall-out of the row.
The education portfolio holder, Cllr Cemlyn Williams, told the committee: “I want to offer assurance that not a single pupil in the county will be refused a meal, whatever the circumstances.
“Despite that we must acknowledge that school meal debt is a problem across the county.”
Adding he’d been led by Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle governors, who urged the authority to review its process after calling the online payment system “inefficient,” he confirmed they would be doing so.
There had also been complaints that no automated messages were sent to parents informing them of their debts, it was not possible to top up the account with cash and there was a minimum bank transfer payment of £10.
But Cllr Alwyn Gruffydd said the report was bare on detail regarding the particular school’s situation, adding, “One worries about the concern the whole process has caused for parents, pupils and staff.
“Allegations have been made by a headteacher that the authority has used him as a scapegoat.
“Imagine that, a headteacher has accused the education department of such a thing. There are serious questions that need answering here.”
In response, Cllr Williams stressed that the authority had apologised in a statement.
“We have apologised for what’s happened and the way it happened, but we have also taken note of the wise words of the chair of governors.
“(The situation) has caused a lot of unnecessary pain and we certainly want to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen again.”
Garem Jackson, the Head of Education, added, “Our main focus now is to ensure we’re in the best possible situation going forward.
“Of course, like any process and event, we learn lessons in moving forward and we have done.
“We communicated immediately with all of our schools to remind them that not a single child goes unfed in Gwynedd’s schools…. we’ve held an open and mature discussion with all of our headteachers on the matter and have received positive responses and they’ve bought in without exception.”
Mr Jackson concluded, “It is perhaps fair to say that the guidance wasn’t clear enough at one point, but that was a matter of interpretation.
“We acted to correct anything that wasn’t clear and reiterate our viewpoint as a responsible authority and employer that there was no expectation for that to happen and that all of our children should be provided with a meal.
“A meeting was arranged as soon as possible to ensure we were all singing from the same hymn sheet.”
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