Head teacher apologises to parents for school caterers who ‘can’t bake a potato’

James Ashley wrote that the food served by Chartwells was 'completely unacceptable'
James Ashley wrote that the food served by Chartwells was 'completely unacceptable' - REDBRIDGE COMMUNITY SCHOOL/SOLENT NEWS AND PHOTO AGENCY

A head teacher has apologised to parents over school caterers who “can’t bake a potato”.

Jason Ashley, who leads Redbridge Community School in Southampton, said he was “exceptionally unhappy” with the dishes being served to pupils aged 11 to 16 by a private caterer.

In a letter to parents, the head teacher supplied photos of bland-looking meals, showing pie and mash, baked potato and tuna, chicken and veg, and chips and beans.

He blamed the problems on Chartwells, a company that describes itself as “the UK’s leading school catering company” serving more than 2,000 schools.

Mr Ashley wrote: “As the Headteacher, you will often hear me say ‘if it’s good enough for my own children, it has to be good enough for yours’.

“Frankly, the food that is served in the canteen is completely unacceptable, so much so that if my own children’s school served this I would be exceptionally unhappy.”

He added: “We have concluded with our photo evidence that Chartwells do seem to be unable to ‘bake a potato’ correctly... I keep asking myself ‘how difficult is it to bake a potato?’”

Mr Ashley said that numerous meetings between himself and the company had proved fruitless.

He also claimed that portions are shrinking and prices are rising, which Chartwells has denied.

“For example, recently it was British ‘pie week’ and the pie served was of extremely poor quality when compared to our partner schools,” he wrote.

“Moreover, for many of our students a school meal is so important to them but I can no longer tolerate, provide reasons or even justify to you the unacceptable nature of the food.

“Now, I could be completely wrong, misguided, fussy, difficult or on a different planet; so I will leave you to decide with a selection of photos taken (and this is served to staff) for you to make up your own mind.

“Therefore, I hope that you are as angry and as disappointed as me. For those of you that pay from your hard earned wage – I can only apologise and I am sorry.”

Redbridge, a mixed secondary foundation school, has its support services run through a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract which, according to Labour-run Southampton city council, gives head teachers “little or no control over the quality of the services provided”.

PFIs were first launched in 1992 by John Major’s Conservative government, before expanding widely under Tony Blair’s administration.

Chartwells said in a statement: “We apologise that in this instance our usual level of service has fallen below the high standards we demand.

“We are committed to working in collaboration with the school and are implementing an immediate action plan to rectify these issues.”