A SCHOOL has defended strict policies which ban packed lunches and limit pupils' drinks to water.

Aureus School in Didcot, which opened its secondary building to the first cohort of Year 7s in September, has been branded 'draconian' by a parent for its rules about eating and drinking.

But the new academy, which is run by GLF Schools, stressed the importance of encouraging children to eat healthily and socially.

Pupils are not allowed to bring in packed lunches and must get food from the school canteen, and eat alongside peers as well as staff.

Meat served at the canteen is Halal-only and the only drink pupils are allowed to consume on site is water.

Executive headteacher Hannah Wilson said feedback about the school's culture and ethos had been hugely positive.

She said: "Food education closes the poverty gap and delicious, nutritious should be a universal entitlement.

"With all of the headlines about food banks and obesity, we are preparing our students for healthy lifestyles in the future."

But one parent whose daughter attends the school, who asked not to be named, said the rules were 'draconian'.

He said: "We are thinking of taking her out of the school - it's getting silly and more like a dictatorship. Their views are quite extreme.

"It's about choice. It's supposed to be an inclusive school but they are only catering for one particular religion."

He said the school's insinuation that pupils would not otherwise get a sit-down meal at home, or would only eat unhealthy food, was 'absolutely insulting'.

The father added that he had tried to get the policies changed since September but had been unsuccessful.

The school's written frequently-asked questions addresses the food policies and states: "What we eat is a key influencer on our performance.

"When we eat well, we sleep well, when we sleep well, we perform well.

"We strive at Aureus to create good habits that will become lifelong routines.

"Sitting down to eat together once a day is an important part of our school culture and ethos.

"All staff sit and eat, but also bond and talk, with our students.

"These relationships are key in nurturing our school community.

"By ensuring that all students have access to a daily nutritious home-cooked family meal we ensure that all have this equality of opportunity."

Regarding the water-only rule, the FAQs state: "Hydrated brains learn better."

Reiterating the Halal kitchen policy, the document states this is to 'celebrate the diversity of our country’s culture'.

Students and staff get to choose from eating a hot halal meat meal, hot gluten-free vegetarian meal, a jacket potato, a salad, a pasta pot or a baguette.

In 2013 a Government-backed report compiled by the founders of restaurant chain Leon encouraged more headteachers to consider banning packed lunches.

It stated: "We were approached by many free schools who wanted advice on setting up a first-class food service.

"Among other things, we always advised them to ban packed lunches from the start."

The report noted the rising obesity rates with children and added: "Many parents mistakenly imagine that a packed lunch is the healthiest option.

"In fact, it is far easier to get the necessary nutrients into a cooked meal – even one of mediocre quality.

"Only one per cent of packed lunches meet the nutritional standards that currently apply to school food."