Vicar defends Wembley free school making children eat alone if parents don’t pay

Katharine Birbalsingh, headteacher of Michaela Community School

Katharine Birbalsingh, headteacher of Michaela Community School - Credit: Archant

A vicar has defended a Wembley free school which forces children to eat by themselves if their parents fail to pay for school lunches on time.

Father David Ackerman at St John The Evangelist, Kensal Green Pic credit: Polly Hancock

Father David Ackerman at St John The Evangelist, Kensal Green Pic credit: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Michaela Community School, a mixed secondary free school in North End Road, puts pupils in “lunch isolation” if parents fall behind on regular school meal payments.

Children are made to sit on their own for an hour and given just a sandwich and piece of fruit, instead of the usual hot meal and dessert.

The policy, outlined in a letter to a family of a pupil, has come under intense criticism. But one of its governors, the Rev David Ackerman of St John the Evangelist church in Kensal Green, has defended the policy.

“Children whose parents can’t afford food are on free school meals. This isn’t about people who can’t pay, it’s about people who won’t pay,” he said.

“This letter about isolation comes from a position of care of the pupils. I would say to anybody who has an issue with it that there’s a bit of an anti-free school drive around this.”

The policy is the brainchild of controversial headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh, who said the measure was in place to encourage parents to “change their ways”.

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In a letter to a family of a child at Michaela, deputy headteacher Barry Smith wrote: “You are currently £75 overdue. If this full amount is not received within this week, your child will be placed into lunch isolation...”

It continued: “They will receive a sandwich and piece of fruit only. They will spent the entire 60 minutes [sic] period in lunch isolation.

“Only when the outstanding sum is paid in full will they be allowed into family lunch with their classmates.”

The letter was addressed “dear families” but it is not known if other parents were sent a similar letter.

The family at the centre of the storm have now moved their child to another school.

Meals at the school cost £2.50 a day, and payment is required up front. Typical lunches include cheese and tomato pizza and ice cream, and a jacket potato with cheese and beans.

Miss Birbalsingh defended putting children in isolation for missed payments, and told The Daily Mail: “The letter from Barry Smith... was sent in an attempt to encourage mum to change her ways and support her son by paying for his food.”

She added that the lunch isolation formed part of a half day of isolation for the child’s poor behaviour.

Rev Ackerman said the child’s parents should have approached the governors if they had a problem with the policy, rather than go to the press.

“I could have spoken to them and advised them but they didn’t. The first I heard about it was in the press.”

Miss Birbalsingh, who founded Michaela in 2014, rose to prominence after speaking out at the 2010 Conservative party conference in support of former education secretary Michael Gove, claiming that the state education system was “broken”.

The school prides itself on having a “private school ethos” with no fees, and is known for having a strict disciplinary system.