Edinburgh primary school pupils go without free school meals because of computer quirk

Edinburgh council apologises for problem
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At least one Edinburgh primary school has told many of its children to bring packed lunches today (Wednesday 1 February) after a computer quirk cancelled their free school meals.

Primary pupils across the city were due to be having a themed lunch to celebrate Chinese New Year but the Parent Pay online system for school meals ignores bookings for meals on themed days if they have been placed too far in advance and pupils are left without their lunch. The council could not say how many children would not be getting their free school meal today.

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One parent at Ratho Primary said it happened every time there was a themed day. "Maybe once or twice a term, they do a themed day menu and something to do with the system cancels everyone’s meal bookings for free school meals for P5 downwards, meaning on a themed day basically no-one gets a school lunch. We got an email this week to say that school meal orders have been cancelled for today so most pupils will need a packed lunch. It's a citywide system so it must be happening in other schools too.

Many children are going without their free school meals because of problems with the computer system.Many children are going without their free school meals because of problems with the computer system.
Many children are going without their free school meals because of problems with the computer system.

"We’re not massively impacted as we can sort out a packed lunch, but I know for many pupils this is their only hot meal, so it causes a headache for parents and potentially means vulnerable children going without lunch." And she questioned whether themed lunches were necessary in any case. "Everyone wants a Christmas dinner, but beyond that you don't really need a themed meal. I don't think the kids enjoy them much anyway."

Themed days are decided centrally for all primary schools in the Capital, but today’s Chinese New Year meal has been cancelled because of supply issues and uncertainties around strikes which made it difficult to plan ahead. Children whose meal bookings for today did register online will get a standard Wednesday meal, but it is understood children whose bookings did not register will still go without.

Parents typically use the Parent Pay system to book meals for their children for a few months at a time. For children in P5 and below there is nothing to pay because they are entitled to free school meals, as are older children who meet the criteria. The council said if parents booked too far ahead – before details of the themed days had been uploaded –then bookings for these days would not register. The council also said there were no more themed days planned until the summer, when a “summer fun” lunch was scheduled towards the end of term, followed by a “spooky fun” themed day around Halloween and a third themed day around Easter 2024.

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A spokesperson said: “We are aware of issues with the booking of theme days for our school menus and apologise for this. We have made changes to the Parent Pay booking system which means there will be no further problems for parents/carers going forward.”

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