Headteacher faces threats following school meals row at Gwynedd school

  • ITV reporter Rob Shelley visited Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle to hear from the headteacher.

The headteacher of a north Wales school says he has faced threats after telling parents that pupils whose school meal accounts were more than a penny in debt wouldn’t be fed. 

The warning was issued in a letter sent by Neil Foden, the strategic head of Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle in Penygroes, Gwynedd

Mr Foden said a number of parents had amassed a total of £1,800-worth of debt by not adding money to their children’s school meal accounts, which had become a "long-standing problem".

Gwynedd Council has since apologised for the "lack of clarity" and has promised that "no child across the county will face a day without lunch at school".

Neil Foden has been the strategic head teacher of Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle since the middle of June.

In an interview with ITV Wales, Mr Foden said: "I’ve only been the strategic headteacher of Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle since the middle of June - but this, I gather, has been going on since November, December, last year.

"What’s been happening is, a number of parents have been running up debts. The school had a policy of texting them every Friday to remind them they needed to pay. When that failed, they were sent letters - but when that failed, it doesn’t seem like anything else has happened."

The incident has sparked a reaction online, with footballer and campaigner Marcus Rashford one of many responding.

Meanwhile, well-known parenthood blogger Simon Harris offered to clear the children's account debts at the school canteen - saying it's a 'no brainer'.

The father-of-four, who is behind the popular 'Man Behaving Dadly' account, wrote on Facebook: "I’ve just made this genuine offer to the management of Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle on Twitter."

He added: "I will absolutely cover their catering deficit if it stops this madness of kids potentially going hungry."

The blogger behind Men Behaving Dadly posted on Facebook revealing he had offered cash to the school. Credit: Facebook

But Mr Foden says not all comments have been welcomed. 

"I’ve had threats, I’ve had people say they know where I live," he added.

"We’ve had verbal abuse in the foulest terms and some of that has been directed at the office staff as well, which has been completely unacceptable."

The local community has also been ready to react, with many at Penygroes on Friday feeling disappointed. 

Reacting to the news, many locals were critical of the headteacher.

One gentleman said: "I don’t understand the approach that they’ve taken. He should never have been in a situation where a parent has got that much debt for school meals. It should’ve been dealt with long beforehand."

Another added: "I think it’s atrocious. How can you say that kids can’t have food because they’re not in credit? It’s not the kids' fault is it. It’s disgusting. What do you do? Do you leave the kids to starve?"

Despite the criticism, Mr Foden claims that he only did what he was told by the authorities when he wrote to the parents of the school. He said they met with kitchen staff, told him what they’d done and asked him to write to parents accordingly.

A spokesperson for Gwynedd Council said: "We apologise for the worry and concern caused by the content and wording of a recent letter from Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle to parents regarding school dinner payments.

"As a council, the welfare of children and young people is always our priority, and we will always ensure that no child across the county will face a day without lunch at school. This should be made clear in any letter to parents from the county's schools when discussing school dinners.

"Having investigated what happened in the case of this recent letter, it seems that technical advice provided by the Education Department on how to deal with school dinner payment debts created a lack of clarity, and we sincerely apologise for the impact this has had. In light of this matter, we will review our guidance to schools."

Siân Gwenllian, Plaid Cymru's Member of the Senedd for the Arfon constituency, later tweeted: "Had encouraging news that this decision will be up-turned.

"Situation shouldn’t have arisen in first place."