Pupils forced to eat meals on knees in tiny hall

Lisa Barry with Rory Barry, Ben Withers and fellow campaigners. Picture: Julie Bull
Lisa Barry with Rory Barry, Ben Withers and fellow campaigners. Picture: Julie Bull
Have your say

CAMPAIGNING parents are demanding council bosses expand their city school’s tiny dining hall after reports that youngsters have been forced to eat meals from their knees.

They are calling for urgent work on East Craigs Primary’s hall – currently a gym and dining room – to avert “pandemonium” in January when the Scottish Government’s policy on free school meals for all P1-3s comes into force.

The news comes just days after we revealed that Edinburgh’s annual free school meals bill is set to hit £5.5m – enough to pay for 260 teachers.

Dining arrangements at the west Edinburgh school are so cramped that all P2-7 pupils with a packed lunch have to eat it at classroom desks.

Youngsters who take a school meal are staggered over multiple sittings, meaning they are forced to eat in a rush and often miss out on playtime.

And the accommodation issues have led to pupils losing hours of schooling over the course of a session as children who eat during the final sitting cause afternoon classes to be delayed by up to 20 minutes.

Frank Ramage, chair of the school’s parent council, said: “Parents are getting very, very frustrated, particularly as the size of the school roll is ever-increasing and the council is looking to build an extension to cope with the rising numbers.

“But they’re failing to recognise that the school needs other infrastructure apart from the classrooms. Parents are calling for recognition from the council and government of the investment that’s needed to put in place the policies that they have around PE and free school meals.”

Parents said using a gym hall which is less than two thirds the standard 180m² size had created a “stressful” and “unsociable” dining experience for their children.

On busy days, P1s have been forced to consume packed lunches in classrooms while children taking school meals in the dining hall have had to eat while sitting on benches with their trays on their knees. Mum Lisa Barry, 36, who has sons in P3 and P6, said: “It’s very worrying – it could be pandemonium when the free school meals policy comes in.

“The experience of having a school lunch should be pleasurable. If the children are able to buy a hot lunch, you want them to be able to have that and for it to be a comfortable experience – that’s not what’s happening.”

Education chiefs said the East Craigs situation echoed pressures faced by schools across the Capital. Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “As parents and pupils at East Craigs have highlighted, there are real practical issues with regards to the implementation of free school meals for P1 to P3 pupils policy which have to be addressed.

“We have been in contact with the Scottish Government to flag up this issue.”