A HEADTEACHER has branded a free meals policy a ‘fiasco’ after children as young as four were left hungry on their first day of school.

Food delivered to Cheselbourne Village School arrived more than an hour and a half late yesterday, the first day of the new policy and a new contract with provider Chartwells Catering.

Food was due to arrive at 12pm at Cheselbourne but was not delivered until after 1.30pm.

Headteacher Bob Duffin said the food which eventually arrived was sandwiches rather than the hot food promised.

Of the schools contacted by the Dorset Echo, Piddle Valley C of E First School and Greenford C of E Primary School in Maiden Newton also reported issues.

Buckland Newton C of E School, which also receives meals from Chartwells, said there had been no problems.

Dorset County Council said meals were also delivered late at Damers First School in Dorchester.

Other schools were unavailable for comment or start their terms later this week.

Describing it as a ‘fiasco’, Mr Duffin said: “It’s unacceptable and really shoddy treatment.

“We go to great lengths to make sure the children feel happy and safe and it’s not good to start off their time at school by going hungry.

“We kept them going with fruit and biscuits but it’s not ideal. When the food did finally arrive it was tuna or cheese sandwiches and a chocolate brownie, which is hardly a balanced meal.

“We had an extended lunchtime so the children would not be too upset but the rest of the afternoon was not good for learning.”

Jayne Browne, headteacher at Piddle Valley, said they had a minor equipment issue.

She said: “We were just short of some vital pieces of equipment like plates. We did get our lunches as requested. We were able to give the children what they ordered.”

Ms Browne said the school received extra plates and cutlery from Chartwells after lunch.

Meanwhile, Franz Atkinson, headteacher at Greenford said they failed to receive meals in preparation for their first day of term, which is today.

Mr Atkinson said they were expecting a delivery yesterday which never arrived.

He contacted Chartwells and was told they’d be at the school this morning.

He said: “I’m a bit disappointed really. We start lunches at half-past eleven so it will be a bit of a panic but I’m sure we will manage. It will have to be a modified system for the first day.”

Food is provided to Cheselbourne Village School and a number of other schools in Dorset by Chartwells, which began its new contract yesterday.

Other schools use independent providers.

It was also the first day of a national policy to ensure every child in reception, year one and year two receive a free school lunch.

On Monday the Dorset Echo reported concerns that the plans had been ‘rushed through’.

Mr Duffin said parents had been understanding about the issue.

“I think they will be fine with it if it is just one day, but it will be interesting to see what happens during the rest of the week.”

Chartwells was unavailable for comment.

‘Not been without challenges’

PATRICK Myers, children’s services senior manager at Dorset County Council, said: “Ensuring that free school meals are provided across the county has not been without its challenges.

“The majority of schools which have re-opened so far this week received the meals, but we have experienced some teething problems.

“In the case of Damers First School in Dorchester and Cheselbourne School, meals were delivered late. However, these issues are being resolved through close working with the schools and our contractors.”