THE principal of a secondary school widely criticised online over the standard of its food after pictures were circulated on social media has invited people into school to try the food for themselves.

Images shared that appear to show two items on the menu at Astrea Academy Dearne - a cheese and ham panini, and a chicken burger - have been criticised for their unappetising appearance, with the latter image shared on Facebook more than 700 times.

But principal Joanne Wilson has urged people to consult the school before airing their views on social media - and has sent out a letter to parents and carers in an attempt to smooth over the situation.

“The photos are quite misrepresentative of the food on offer,” she said.

“People are concerned, and I can understand that. The last thing we want as a school is to make people concerned.

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“In the past there has been quite a bit of processed food on the menu, but with the change to a new catering company we’ve moved away from that.

“I can say whatever I want, but the best thing for people to do would be to come and see for themselves. People think we are going to put on a special banquet, but I have said we’re more than happy for them to come whenever they want to see what actually goes on.”

A ‘taster session’ will be held at the school on Goldthorpe Road from 4pm to 5pm on Wednesday - but anyone who cannot attend is asked to contact the school to arrange a visit. The response has been met with some derision from parents, who have called it ‘patronising’ and claimed it is simply a distraction from the issue.

Susanne Hopkinson said her son Bailey had previously complained about the quality of the food being served - but it was only when the photos surfaced online that she realised the problem was more widespread.

“My son came home after the first week and said the food wasn’t very nice, but I kind of brushed it off and said stop being silly,” said Susanne, 43, of Garden Street, Thurnscoe.

“I felt so guilty when I saw the pictures. That panini doesn’t even look edible. You could say it’s what you get when there are 1,200 kids and they only get 15 minute slots to get their dinner.”

Susanne added that while the school can ‘rectify the food’, its response left a lot to be desired.

“It’s making out that kids are used to eating processed foods and when they have a proper meal they’re going to complain,” she added.

“They’re saying the pictures are unrepresentative, but I don’t know what more proof you need. They can rectify the food, but it’s the response I find patronising - they’re trying to tell us there’s nothing wrong and our kids are lying. I’ve said to my son that the next time he’s on the late slot for lunch, I would like to go down.”

Dearne had its kitchen taken over by catering company Aspens when it joined the Astrea Academy Trust, which also runs Netherwood Academy in Wombwell, earlier this year.

“It is always disappointing when people feel the best course of action is to express their views in a public domain without attempting to speak to the people involved first,” states Joanne’s letter.

“If we make a mistake, we hold our hands up and try and resolve it. I can assure you that the images shared online do not represent the food offered by Aspens and whilst some children might miss some of the processed food served in the past, such as chicken burgers, many children are enjoying the fresh ingredients that are prepared by talented colleagues in our five star food hygiene rated school kitchen.”