A PRIMARY school is axing school dinners to stave off a cash crisis.

In a letter to parents, governors at Aston and Cote Primary School, near Bampton, said they had been forced to take immediate action after pupil numbers dropped.

Chairman John Little said the annual income for a school was dependent on the number of pupils on its role and Aston and Cote had 136 –– 18 below capacity.

He said: “With our present numbers there is a considerable shortfall in our income to the point where we could fall into deficit. This we cannot do.”

He said governors had been analysing how to avoid falling into the red in a way “which would have the least effect on the teaching and learning of the pupils”.

It costs the school £6,000 annually to feed an average of 25 pupils per day at a cost of £1.95 per lunch.

Mr Little said: “After lengthy discussions, the governing body has regrettably decided to dispense with this service from the end of July. Hot school lunches will no longer be provided and all pupils will need to bring a packed lunch. Parents of pupils eligible for free school lunches will be contacted individually to make alternative arrangements.

“This decision has not been taken lightly, but due to the financial situation at the moment, provision of school lunches imposes a burden on school finances.”

One parent who emailed us anonymously said parents were angry they had not been consulted over the decision.

In response, the governing body has organised a meeting at the school on Tuesday, June 9.

Mr Little said there was no statutory requirement to provide school lunches, and added: “We have made a decision in the best interests of the school, but we are happy to talk to parents.”

He said the decision would be reviewed in 12 months if pupil numbers picked up.

Oxfordshire County Council, the local education authority, said it “actively supported the provision of school meals”.

Out of the county’s 259 primary and special schools, 218 provide hot lunches, while the remaining 41 schools provide a ‘boxed meal service’ for children entitled to free school meals.

Boxed meals are hot meals cooked and delivered by a neighbouring school.

Mr Little said only two pupils at Aston and Cote were eligible for free school meals and added the school would explore the option of providing boxed meals.

Mr Garnham-Edge, service manager of Food with Thought, the council’s school catering arm, said the provision of hot school lunches across the county had increased by 12 per cent in the past 12 months.

He said: “This year Aston and Cote is the only school to confirm it wishes to withdraw from the service.”