Parents have slammed a school after pupils were left to eat outside in a 'cold, wet and draughty cattle shed.’
According to some parents, students at the 1,500-pupil Rastrick High School have been complaining this month that they have been unable to find a seat either inside or outside on some lunchtimes.
The new 'al-fresco' space – referred to as ‘the barn’ and the ‘cattle shed’ by some – includes wooden benches and a steel structure with open sides and a metal roof.
Other pupils have told parents that they had eaten their lunch in a doorway to escape the elements.
But headteacher Steve Evans has defended new lunchtime arrangements at the top-performing school after deciding to build the outdoor dining space to cope with rising pupil numbers.
One parent, who did not want to be named, told the Examiner: “My daughter has not been able to find seating in the main hall to eat a hot meal since she returned.
“She therefore gets a panini each day and has to go outside where there is insufficient seating in the barn. She finds herself eating in a doorway to protect her from the rain.”
She added: “I am shocked at the situation with the barn and eating outside in this weather. The outdoor cattle shed has no sides and has wet benches. There is simply not enough seating for pupils to dine in.”
Around a dozen parents have expressed their concerns on a Facebook forum.
One mum said: “My son said he had to walk around with his lunch as there was nowhere to sit down.”
Another said: “I wasn’t aware there was an option to eat outside in the freezing cold.”
Mr Evans has defended the changes, saying the pupils were not compelled to eat outside.
“We are a growing school and wanted to make dining a lot calmer,” he said.
There are several hundred seats in the indoor dining room and a staggered lunchtime routine had been introduced to reduce queueing, he added. Those with packed lunches can now eat in a new ‘break-out space’ in the library.
In previous years students had asked if they could eat outside, he added. This summer the school spent £120,000 creating the outdoor dining area and new car parking.
Those who choose to eat outside can also buy food from a snack bar which is within the outdoor structure.
Mr Evans rejected the suggestion that some pupils were forced outside due to a lack of indoor seating.
“We have not forced anybody to dine outside,” he said.
“The outside dining area is popular; we can get 100-150 pupils in here. You can bring out a pasta pot lunch or a full roast in a covered tray.”
The headteacher said pupils would be accommodated inside the building during lunchtimes in winter months.
He said that outdoor dining was a growing trend at schools.
“I think we are the first in West Yorkshire but I expect more will follow. It is a cost-effective solution to dining. We want the students to not queue for long periods of time.”