Northern Ireland

Christmas lunch off the menu for hundreds of school pupils

Christmas lunch is off the menu for some school children
Christmas lunch is off the menu for some school children Christmas lunch is off the menu for some school children

Christmas lunch has been taken off the menu for hundreds of school pupils.

The Education Authority (EA) confirmed that festive meals were to be cancelled at schools in the Newry, Portadown and Lurgan areas.

It is believed both primary and post-primary schools will be impacted.

The EA has blamed "staff shortages" for the cancellation, meaning many pupils will not get the opportunity to enjoy the traditional turkey lunch.

One school principal told The Irish News of his anger that the annual festive meal has been halted and said it was "yet another blow" for children, particularly those from working-class families.

"The Christmas lunch is a major part of the school calendar, pupils and teachers all look forward to it," he said.

"For some kids, it could be the only Christmas lunch they have, so for this to be taken away from them is unbelievable.

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"In our school, which has a large number of children who receive free school meals, we all come together, there's lovely music and lovely food and it's a little ray of sunshine for everyone.

"The EA are saying that the cancellation is down to staff shortages and money, we have been fighting this for two to three weeks now, but it looks like it's going ahead.

One school principal said Christmas lunch is a 'major part of the school calendar for pupils and teachers'
One school principal said Christmas lunch is a 'major part of the school calendar for pupils and teachers' One school principal said Christmas lunch is a 'major part of the school calendar for pupils and teachers'

"Those impacted will be mainly from working class areas, this is yet another blow they are being dealt and is totally unfair."

A spokesperson for the EA said: “EA catering provide a meals service to 1,045 schools across Northern Ireland.

"This year the EA catering service will prepare and serve over 185,000 Christmas dinners to children and young people in schools.

"A number of Christmas dinners in schools in the Newry, Portadown and Lurgan area will unfortunately not take place as planned due to staff shortages.

“The EA catering service acknowledges the importance and value of the school meals service and in particular the special importance of the Christmas dinner each year."

The Christmas lunch cancellation comes amid increasing pressures on the EA, which this week saw it join other education leaders in Northern Ireland to urge the secretary of state to “end the cycle of chronic underfunding”.

In a joint letter, the chief executives of the seven main education bodies said children and young people in the north should be treated equitably with those in the rest of the UK.

Earlier this year, the annual funding for education was cut by £70m (2.5%) in the 2023-24 budget set by Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.

In May the EA said it had "regrettably and reluctantly agreed" to £14 million worth of cuts and measures to reduce costs.