AN award-winning headteacher has refuted claims children who eat packed lunches are forced to eat on a gym bench while those who have school dinners sit at a dining table.

Hilary Cook, who is the top dog at Highfields Primary School, which was last rated outstanding by Ofsted inspectors, has responded to concerns raised by parents.

According to one mum, whose nine-year-old daughter attends the Lawford school, only pupils with hot dinners are permitted to sit at a table with a chair.

She says youngsters with packed lunches, including her child, are made to eat their meals at the back of the gym on benches or even sometimes on the floor.

Harwich and Manningtree Standard:

The upset parent has said this all came to a head on World Book Day when school dinner students were able to enjoy eating among themed decorations on the tables.

She said: “I asked my daughter which Hogwarts house she chose to sit at and that is when she said she wasn't allowed to sit on the decorated tables.

“Those that mistakenly thought the tables were for all children got asked to move to the benches.

“When I discussed this with other parents they said this has been happening for a few years and parents have complained but have got nowhere.

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“I am quite distraught the children are treated so differently and I'm shocked an Outstanding school is allowed to treat the children this way.

“I'm heart-broken such a special effort was made to decorate the school dinner tables and that packed lunch children had to sit on an undecorated bench and the floor."

Headteacher Mrs Cook, however, also the designated person of child protection, has now strongly disputed and countered the claims made by parents.

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She said: “I can confirm that children who have packed lunches have the option to sit at a table or on a bench within the school hall. 

“The majority of these children choose to sit on the benches with their friends. If children wish to sit at a table they are free to do so. 

“There was a high uptake for a school lunch on World Book Day where we offered a special themed school lunch.

“Benches are positioned close to lunch tables, not at the back of the hall.”