AN OTLEY school has defended its packed lunches policy from accusations of being heavy-handed.

Westgate Primary hit the headlines this week when a story broke about pupils' lunches being routinely checked for unhealthy food.

The school uses a traffic-light system, listing different foods into red, amber or green categories, as part of its healthy eating policy which is based on a Leeds-wide model.

Items on the banned red list include chocolate, crisps, cereal bars, sweets and fruit smoothies.

Teaching assistants at Westgate give the packed lunches a quick check each morning and remove any sugary or fatty items, handing them to parents at the end of the day.

The policy has been in place for a year but this week one mother-of-four spoke out to brand it 'over-the-top' and say it undermined parents.

Westgate Primary's Headteacher Helen Carpenter, however, insists the rules are being enforced sensibly - and having a positive impact.

She said: "Encouraging healthy eating amongst our pupils is really important to us here at Westgate, therefore we have adopted a packed lunch policy, like many other schools, with a view to ensuring our pupils have a healthy, balanced and nutritious lunch.

"The policy is designed to support the different needs that exist within families including budget and time constraints and we take a flexible approach in individual cases where children have significant food issues.

"We only remove items with high fat or sugar content and replace with a healthy alternative.

"The majority of our parents are very supportive of this policy and since it was introduced there has been a noticeable increase in the amount of fruit and vegetables in packed lunches.

"The packed lunch policy is in line with the school food standards, to which our school meals also have to adhere."

She added that many parents had been in contact since the story went public to voice their support for the school and the policy.

Lots of local parents and residents have been quick to share their views online.

Posting on the Otley - Our Town Facebook page, Amy Noble said: "This is ridiculous. If anyone dared to take food away from my children they would know about it.

"Our school has a healthy eating system in place but we have crisp Fridays and biscuit Tuesdays so on these days they are allowed crisps and biscuits, but must have a healthy snack too.

"Rooting through a child's pack-up is disgusting and could cause eating disorders."

Peter Brown agreed: "Not right.

"The parents know what their children want to eat, not the teachers."

Others, like Hazel Birts, backed the school. She said: "I think it's a positive thing for the school to do.

"Processed food has some crazy ingredients.

"At least the teachers care what they're eating. Westgate is a brilliant school."

Victoria Mirfield agreed: "Otley has really good primary schools.

"We could be living somewhere with proper educational issues to take action about, rather than a policy that has been in place for ages."

Joanne Hodge, meanwhile, summed up the position of many: "I think the packed lunch policy is too strict and they need to compromise even though the intentions were good.

"Westgate is a fab school."