Linda Rachworth and her daughter Danielle. She has been describing her anger after her daughter's school introduced a £10 weekly SERVICE CHARGE for children who are receiving free school meals.

After the shock revelation that a number of UK schools are now charging parents a fee for children to eat packed lunches at school, Southend News Network can reveal that an infants school in Westcliff On Sea has decided to introduce a £2 per day SERVICE CHARGE for all children who get free school meals. All 145 pupils at Station Road Infants Academy are entitled to free school meals automatically due to government funding, but the decision will cost parents at least £10 per week – no discounts are on offer for brothers and sisters, or children with packed lunches.

Linda Rachworth contacted Southend News Network when her daughter Danielle, 5, came home from school last Thursday with a letter from headteacher Dr Imelda Corkage. According to the letter, it says that while government funding covers the food itself, the school has been meeting all costs for the cooking, serving and cleaning up – a situation that the governors insist is ‘no longer sustainable in the face of educational funding cuts across the board.’ Mrs Rachworth added: ‘As it is a service charge, surely we could choose to simply not pay it as this rule applies in a restaurant when they automatically add 10% to your bill. However, when we were told that the £1 donation for a non-uniform day was optional last term, children with parents who chose not to pay didn’t get a Milkybar at the end of the day, so heaven knows what will happen if we refuse to pay £2 a day to get our kids’ free school meals served to them.’

We contacted Dr Corkage for a response to the emails and phone calls that we have received from disgusted parents, and she insists that the £2 daily service charge is ‘regrettable but financially prudentatious.’ She said: ‘Unfortunately, our school coffers can no longer foot the bill for the costs that are associated with so-called free school meals. We would have been able to halve the fee to £1 if the charge applied to just the cooking and cleaning up, but we also have a number of pupils with nut allergies – the increased charge will fund our school’s extensive food screening programme which has won a great deal of praise from educational groups.

She added: ‘Every item of food and drink passes through a 5-stage process to ensure that no traces or shadows of nuts can be found, and with 64 nut allergy cases in our school this is fantastic news for both their parents and the company that we sub-contract the screening work to. While the service charge will technically be optional for all parents, we would like them to bear in mind that the nut screening programme will simply be scrapped if we cannot fund it – this will put affected students in very grave danger.’