CRUMBS! School bans birthday cake

Youngsters celebrating their birthdays have been banned from taking cake into school for their classmates to share.
Norbreck headteacher Karen McCarterNorbreck headteacher Karen McCarter
Norbreck headteacher Karen McCarter

Norbreck Primary Academy said the sugary treats will now be sent home uneaten because teachers no longer have the time to check they are safe for youngsters with allergies to eat.

Headteacher Karen McCarter told parents she ‘hates to be a killjoy’ but said: “I appreciate this is sad but in our modern society, in which we are held accountable, we cannot take the risk.”

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She also said youngsters with allergies – approximately 10 of the school’s 610 pupils – were being left feeling ‘left out’, said it was impossible to tell if parents’ kitchens were hygienic, and said eating unhealthy snacks in class went against the school’s healthy initiatives.

But the key moment came, she said, after seeing teachers struggling to carve up cakes big enough to feed a class of 30, serve them, and then clean up the sticky mess left behind.

The ritual of sending cakes in to share is a fairly recent phenomenon, the school said, but has become such a common occurrence it was disrupting an already busy school day.

Parents walking their young ones to school yesterday morning criticised the move, which they described as ‘over the top’, although councillors jumped to the headteacher’s defence.

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Mrs McCarter said: “As we are not able to account for the ingredients, we could unknowingly give a product to a child which they are allergic to.

“Even if we had a list of ingredients, in a busy school day it is too much to expect teachers to read it and decide who can and cannot eat the product.

“Sharing cake for a birthday is a lovely thing to do. However, all children are made to feel special when it’s their birthday and the teachers ensure all birthdays are remembered and celebrated.

“Cake is something to share outside of school with family or with friends at a party.”

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Mum Nicola Mealor, whose seven-year-old old Tyler Wallace is in Year 3 at Norbreck, said: “It’s a bit over the top. Usually I send Tyler in with a cake on his birthday but they always said it shouldn’t have nuts in. I didn’t know about this but it’s a bit sad.”

Another parent said: “Some things you just think, ‘Really?’

“If children are at school on their birthday they should be able to take a cake in to share it, but then again some people see this as a good thing.

“Each to their own.”

The Norbreck Road school, which became an academy in 2012 and has an Ofsted rating of ‘good’, has previously banned glass bottles, aluminium cans, and cash, although Mrs McCarter denied over-protecting the children.

She said: “We are not a school which makes decisions that over-protect children, we are a school which makes sensible decisions to keep children safe.

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“I am certain parents would not want their children to attend a school where glass bottles and cans are on site. Children don’t bring money because they don’t need it.”

No parents have complained to the school so far, Mrs McCarter added.

Norbreck councillor and Blackpool mayor Peter Callow said: “I’m sure there will be people in the town who will think it’s over-cautious, but the teachers are the people on the front line and the decision is theirs.”

And opposition leader Coun Tony Williams said: “To be left out because you are allergic is a little bit cruel.

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“I understand why the school is doing this because it’s very difficult to take cake to school to share and leave children feeling left out.

“I have never known it to be a problem anywhere else but if the school has children who are allergic then it’s common sense.”

The Food Standards Agency said there was no legal requirement for allergen ingredients to be listed for cakes brought into class by pupils, although they said it was ‘good practice to do so’.

This, a spokesman said, has led to some schools banning cake altogether: “As part of their duty of care to children, schools will of course want to ensure pupils with food allergies or intolerances are kept safe.”

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Norbreck, which opened in the 1930s and is a member of the Fylde Coast Teaching School Alliance, is thought to be the first school in the area to ban prepackaged birthday cake, although others are believed to have quietly discouraged it.

It has followed in the footsteps of other schools both nationally and internationally though.

In 2011, St George’s Primary School in Dorset axed the goodies as part of a crackdown on unhealthy food, insteading encouraging youngsters to mark birthdays with hats, badges, and flags.

Wood End Primary School in Hertfordshire, which has previously told pupils not to play football in the playground in case they got hurt, asked parents not to send celebratory cakes and sweets into class in 2009.

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The same year, schoolgirl Olivia Morris was sent home with an uneaten cake baked by her grandmother that she had taken into Rockingham Infant and Junior School, in Rotherham, to celebrate her ninth birthday.

And in September, Reigate Primary School in Derbyshire faced criticism after banning kiwi fruit and mangoes over allergy fears.

> Gazette opinion - Page 13