Footballer Marcus Rashford has spoken out against a headteacher who has refused to feed pupils who are more than one penny in debt to the school.
The Manchester United and England player, who received an MBE earlier this week, said: “For many children, lunch at school is the only meal they’ll get.”
His comments on Twitter came after Neil Foden, the strategic head of the Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle in Penygroes, Gwynedd, Wales, told parents that pupils in debt to his school would not be given meals.
His letter was widely circulated on social media, and Rashford tweeted in response: “Has the pandemic not taught us anything? Can we not be understanding? Come on now”.
Watch: Marcus Rashford dedicates MBE to his mother
Rashford successful campaigned - after a government U-turn - to secure free meals for vulnerable children during the coronavirus pandemic.
The letter from Foden revealed that the school’s cook has been instructed not to give food to any child “if their debt has not been cleared, or, in the future, to children whose accounts do not have enough money to pay for lunch”.
For many children, lunch at school is the only meal they’ll get… https://t.co/UJu8C7Urxr
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) November 11, 2021
A deadline of 19 November has been set for parents to settle their children's accounts, as there was a deficit in the school meals budget at the end of the last half term.
Foden said a “handful of pupils” at the school, which has about 450 pupils aged 11 to 18, had run up debts close to £2,000.
In his emailed letter to parents, Foden wrote: “I was very surprised to learn at the end of the last half term there was an unexpected deficit in our school meals budget.
“Closer inspection revealed that this was because a handful of pupils had run up debts totalling more than £1,800.
“Unfortunately, this means that I have had to take the following steps.
“All debts over £10 will be transferred to the authority and parents will be invoiced by the council.
“All debts of over £0.01 will receive a message from the school to clear debts and credit the system by Friday, 19 November.
“The cook has been instructed not to give any food to any child from 22 November if the debt has not been cleared, or, in the future, to children whose accounts do not have enough money to pay for lunch.
“I am sorry that we have had to take these steps but the scale of the default means that something clearly has to be done.”
The move to refuse to serve school meals to children in debt has been widely condemned.
Anwen Jones wrote on Facebook: "This sounds like something out of Oliver Twist, it's so Dickensian.
"I'm a former teacher and I used to see children coming into school genuinely hungry all the time, no child should ever be punished like this and how humiliating for them if the cook had to say no to them, it's also putting the cooks in a horrible position."
Last month, chancellor Rishi Sunak refused Rashford’s request to continue the free school meal programme into the holidays for the next three years.
Watch: Rishi Sunak rejects Marcus Rashford's call for free school meals extension