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Clegg challenged over meal quality

Nick Clegg has been challenged on air over his flagship free school meals policy by a mother who claimed pupils had been given mouldy sandwiches under the scheme.

The Deputy Prime Minister said it was "totally unacceptable" after being told by a caller to his LBC Radio phone-in show that youngsters had been given poor quality packed lunches.

Mr Clegg acknowledged it was "completely wrong" and promised to look into the case.

The caller, Nicola, from Somerset, said her daughter's school did not have the capacity to provide hot lunches for the increased number of children entitled to free school meals.

Instead they were given a "very unhealthy" packed lunch, with items including doughnuts and cheese, ham or tuna sandwiches.

Once " the sandwiches turned up frozen", she said, adding: " There was another occasion when they turned up in mouldy bread."

Nicola, who refused to name the school, said: " Most parents I know are now sending in their children with additional food, they are coming home hungry."

The Liberal Democrat leader, who championed the free school meals policy, told her: "It sounds totally unacceptable and you are quite right as a mum to be immensely annoyed."

He added: "If what you said is absolutely right, it hasn't changed at all since the beginning of term, and that they are providing such poor value and poor quality cold meals, that's completely wrong.

"It's not what is happening across the vast majority of the rest of the school system."

He promised to look into the case and "make sure something is done about it".

The on-air exchange came as Mr Clegg released figures showing m ore than 1.6 million infant pupils are eating free school dinners.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader said the official figures showed that a decision to offer all five to seven-year-olds a free meal at lunchtime has had a very high take-up in its first three months.

The policy was introduced into England's 16,500 primary schools in September.

Mr Clegg said 1.3 million more children are eating school lunches since the programme was launched.

In total, 1,640,530 youngsters - around 85% of infant pupils - have a school meal at lunchtime.

"Well over a million and a half infants are enjoying a school meal at lunchtime, giving them a better start to afternoon lessons and a healthy boost for their first years in school," Mr Clegg said.

"The other good news for families is that this saves them up to £400 per child a year on the cost of a packed lunch.

"The naysayers about this policy can eat their hats, and all the leftover sprouts."

Earlier this year, the expense of the free meals policy sparked a coalition row, with former education secretary Michael Gove and schools minister David Laws later writing a joint article insisting they were behind the scheme.

Some head teachers initially warned that the policy would cause difficulties in schools which did not have the kitchen and dining facilities to feed all of eligible pupils during the lunch hour.

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