Teachers are free to take – and keep – any item from pupils’ lunchboxes if they think they are unhealthy or inappropriate, the government has said.
Parents were outraged last month when it emerged children had scotch eggs and a Peperami confiscated under health eating policies.
Now ministers have backed the move, giving staff freedom to ‘confiscate, keep or destroy’ anything deemed to break school policies and setting out the procedure for carrying out lunchbox inspections.
The row over packed lunches erupted after Cherry Tree Primary School, in Colchester, banned junk food from packed lunches.
Outraged parents said it was unfair as the school’s menu offers unhealthy food including high sugar desserts like flapjacks, cookies and mousse.
Vikki Laws, of Colchester, said her daughter Tori, six, was not allowed to eat her Peperami sausage snack, which was confiscated and only returned at the end of the day with a note from teachers.
She said another parent was also told her child was not allowed to have scotch eggs in her lunch box.
Parents were also in uproar after Manley Park Primary School in Manchester banned healthy snacks such as cereal bars from children’s packed lunches – despite offering pizza, chocolate fudge cake and fish fingers on its lunch menu.
Two mothers claimed staff confiscated a nut cereal bar and a packet of 100 per cent fruit chews because of their ‘hidden sugar’.
It reignited the debate about the quality of school meals, at a time when NHS chiefs have warned obesity is the biggest threat to the nation’s health.
But the Department for Education has backed the move, insisting schools are free to ban whatever they like from lunchboxes.
Governing bodies can decide whether to ‘ban certain products to promote healthy eating’.
Schools are urged to consult parents first to ‘ensure that any adopted policy is clearly communicated to parents and pupils’.
But education minister Lord Nash added: ‘Schools have common law powers to search pupils, with their consent, for items.
‘There is nothing to prevent schools from having a policy of inspecting lunch boxes for food items that are prohibited under their school food policies.
‘A member of staff may confiscate, keep or destroy such items found as a result of the search if it is reasonable to do so in the circumstances.’
A member of staff may confiscate, keep or destroy such items found as a result of the search if it is reasonable to do so
Education minister Lord Nash
In response to a parliamentary question, he set out how a search of a lunchbox could be carried out and who should be witnesses.
‘It would be good practice for the pupil to be present during an inspection and for a second member of staff to be present if any items are to be confiscated.
‘If authorities and schools are concerned about their legal position, they should seek their own legal advice.’
Iain Austin, a Labour member of the education select committee, said: ‘With Britain tumbling down the international league tables and with a generation entering the work force with less literacy and numeracy than the generation retiring, you would have thought that teachers might have better things to do than rummaging through children’s crisps and fruit.’
Ukip MP Douglas Carswell said: ‘The Department for Education really must be missing Michael Gove. They are resorting to the kind of nanny state stunts that you would have expected from Tony Blair’s Labour government 15 years ago.
‘It should be entirely up to schools and there is something sinister this. Government should get out of people’s lunchboxes and focus on trying to fix the big things like immigration and the deficit.’
Official figures show that around 20 per cent of children aged four and five in reception classes are classed as overweight.
But the figure rises to around 33 per cent among Year 6 children by the time they leave primary school.