Saturday, January 30, 2010

Chance to change caterers in Merton's secondary schools

Merton has 4 community secondary schools - Bishopsford, Raynes Park, Rutlish and Ricards Lodge. They are all locked into a PFI contract which means it is not the local authority that chooses the catering contractor. The school buildings are owned by New Schools who subcontract service management to Atkins who subcontract catering services at the moment to Chartwell.

After a lengthy process, the local authority has made arrangements to go out to tender to choose a new catering contractor. Merton Parents for Better Food in Schools is absolutely determined to seize this opportunity to make sure there are some dramatic improvements.

Below I have pasted the letter we have sent to the authority outlining our expectations of the new contract. At the heart of our vision is an expectation that every young person will be given the opportunity to eat a tasty, freshly cooked meal in pleasant surroundings.

Feedback re secondary schools catering contract for New Schools

Merton Parents for Better Food in Schools is a parent organisation that set up in 2005 in order to improve the quality of school meals in Merton. Since then we have worked closely with the local authority to help make improvements in the primary schools. We are keen to see similar improvements in the secondary schools and so welcome this opportunity to take part in the market testing arrangements.

Firstly, we would like you to include our aims and objectives for secondary school meals with the contract specifications ( see and click on secondary tab) These aims were drawn up with a wide range of stakeholders and were agreed by the authority. We think it would be very helpful for prospective contractors to see this. It is important to note that we expect the contract to ensure that secondary school students enjoy the same high standards as primary school students

Secondly, we would like to ensure that with the support of Merton, a member of Merton Parents is part of the group that selects the next caterer

Thirdly we would like to see the criteria for choosing the new caterers and the weighting.

Finally, I would like to say we are very excited by the opportunity that the market testing gives us to improve secondary school food and we look forward to working with you. Please let me know if there is anything else we can do.

Best wishes,

Jackie Schneider
Chair of Merton Parents for Better Food in Schools

Have I missed anything out? As soon as I get more details about the new contract and the timetable of events I will post it here

Monday, January 25, 2010

Beyond Baked Beans

Do you have teenage children looking to leave the nest? This particular cohort of young people probably missed out on the school food improvements and the return of cookery lessons on the curriculum. But fear not - the excellent organisation Beyond Baked Beans are running a campaign to get students and young people cooking. They will help young people learn to cook for themselves. Aimed at students they combine campaigning for better food with providing practical help and advice. Have a look at their website and send the link to any young people who will find it useful whatever their cooking skills.

They are also on facebook and twitter. I will definitely be suggesting that the new sixth form at Rutlish and Ricards show the site to their students

Friday, January 22, 2010

Vile coco pops ads targeting children on their way to school

This advert is on a bus stop outside Poplar Primary School in Merton. No doubt they are probably outside schools up and down the country. Coco pops would not be allowed in schools because of the high fat and sugar content. Many schools are working hard to persuade children that they shoulding be eating less fat and sugar and encouraging them to try healthier and tastier alternatives to junk food. Adverts like this do nothing to help. Yes, I know Kelloggs are not breaking the law but I think ads like this are irresponsible and unethical. If you agree please email Kelloggs to tell them so. The email address is

I think it is even more shocking when you consider Kelloggs are a change4life partner.

NEWS UPDATE: just discovered Kelloggs are on twitter. You can send a message to @kelloggsuk

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Reviewing primary school meals in Merton

At last nights Merton Parents meeting we discussed the forthcoming meeting we have with the local authority and the caterers ISS Caterhouse. This gives us a brilliant opportunity to talk to the key people and raise any concerns or questions we have. I know that the caterers find it very useful as well.

If you are a parent in Merton and have any comments or questions about the primary school food then please contact us at Merton Parents. You can either leave a comment here but the best way to have your say is to sign up to our mailing list. It takes a few minutes to register but you can then get the latest news and take part in consultations and have your say.

Please encourage your friends and neighbours to comment as well. It is only when everyone gets involved that we have the power to drive through improvements!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Prue Leiths farewell speech in full

Taken from the School Food Trust website

"When I accepted the job as Chair of the Trust, I said that I thought it the most important job I'd ever done. And so it has proved.

But I did hugely under-estimate the task.

I had this naive idea that we could do the job and wind ourselves up in three years. That all schools needed to do was to teach children about food and how to cook, stop them bringing food or drinks into school, ban vending machines, close the school gates at lunch time, make the kitchens efficient and the dining rooms pleasant places to be, provide delicious healthy meals, and get the parents to refrain from rewarding their little darlings for eating up their greens by giving them a Kit-Kat.

And, I thought, in three years, almost every child in the country would have learned to like good food. Bingo, we could all go home.

I swiftly discovered it wasn't as simple as that. But we have made great progress. There are now many schools doing all, or nearly all, of those things successfully.

We've stopped the fifty-year slide in school dinner take-up, and though of course it would be great to have got the numbers back to 1960 levels, it is no mean achievement to have forty percent of children eating good healthy meals instead of junk.

I had also assumed that head teachers and governing bodies would see the point of a decent diet and good food education, would accept that healthy children would concentrate better, be happier, achieve more. And that they would be keen to upgrade their dining rooms and kitchens.

But I soon found that many teachers felt what children ate was a matter for their parents. And that available money would be better spent on something else. And that catering cost money so the less of it the better. My argument is that you would not have disgusting loos or dangerous playgrounds just because they do not cover their costs. Children should not have to spend half their break queuing, they should be able to eat in pleasant surroundings, have time to relax and not be bullied. And anyway, the better the catering operation, the more bums on seats and the closer to break-even or even profit.

But, thank God, attitudes have changed fast. Only last week I was on the Today programme expecting to have a diversion of views with the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, only to have her agree with everything I said. That would not have happened three years ago. Of course it is easier to effect change if the law is on your side, and the requirement to teach cooking in schools, and the statutory lunch standards have certainly helped focus minds.

Then I had supposed that all school cooks could cook. Wrong. Many cooks were hired in the Turkey Twizzler era when cooking wasn't needed. Well, we now have 29 School FEAST centres training, encouraging and inspiring catering staff. It was a struggle at first: it astonished me that schools and LAs, who would not dream of failing to update the skills of their teachers, seemed to think training catering staff a luxury they could not afford. But School FEAST is going like a train now, and delicious, nicely cooked, fresh food is the norm in schools, rather than the exception.

And then I had imagined that parents would be thrilled that their children could now get proper food at school. But persuading them that a £2 healthy lunch is good value when the chippy offers all-the-chips-you-can-eat for a pound is another matter. So of course we are pleased by the recent announcement of the widening of the eligibility for free school meals. Definitely a step in the right direction.

And our 3000 Lottery-funded Let's Get Cooking clubs, soon to be 5000, which are for children and their parents have been a cracking success with heartening research showing participating families not just learning to cook but changing the way they eat at home.

I am perfectly confident that the School Food Trust will continue to win over children, parents, teachers, Local Authorities, governors and caterers. In the next few years, while the press is still on our side, and Government is perforce focused on the cost of ill-health, eating school lunches will become, I believe, the cool thing to do.

But I would like to tell you, an audience that understands children and education, what scares me rigid.

It is the power of the manufacturers to sell junk to children.

With the demise of the family knees-under the table meal and the rise of the snacking-all-day culture, we could see our advances undone in the next generation.

We need to go on teaching children about food, and how to cook, and how to eat, for ever. Until we accept that teaching children to LIKE good food is as important to their future success as being literate or numerate, children will inevitably succumb to the blandishments of the chip, crisp, and chocolate manufacturers, who have massive marketing budgets and know how to sell sand to Bedouins - selling sugar, salt and fat to kids is a walk in the park.

My message to Government is simple: do not drop your guard. Keep food a priority. But I would also like to acknowledge that in forty years of banging on government doors, bleating about the importance of food in schools, this government has been the first to grab the issue and do something about it. I know they had a little nudge from Jamie Oliver's excellent work, but they have really run with it. So thank you Ed. (Rt Hon Ed Balls MP, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families].

I could bore for England on the achievements and dedication of the School Food Trust. I will never again complain, in a blanket way, about civil servants and bureaucrats. The 60-odd staff at the Trust, plus the Let's Get Cooking Team, are some of the hardest working, most passionate and dedicated people I have ever met. I wish I had time to laud them individually. But I will say that in 50 years, I have never worked with a better chief executive, or a nicer woman, than Judy Hargadon.

So you can see why I leave this job with reluctance. It has been fun and it's important. I am sure my successor will find it both."

Prue Leith, January 19th 2010

More photos from Prue Leith's leaving party

Prue Leiths leaving party

This is picture of Prue with Ed Balls MP and Judy Hargadon, Chief Exec of the School Food trust taken at a reception at the DCFS Tuesday night. There were lots of people gathered to say goodbye to Prue. Food was served by children from a local lets get cooking club. This was espcially poignant since Prue was so instrumental in the sucess of Let's get cooking.
Ed Balls made a great speech praising Prue's passion and committment. In response Prue gave a passionate and committed speech reminding us all why school food is so important and urging us on to greater achievements. She took the opportunity to remind everyone to be vigilant in stopping the promotion of junk food to children, warning everyone that the huge marketing budgets of some companies could threaten to undo all the good work she had been involved in.
It is incredibly sad to see Prue go. She has one more board meeting to chair and we are expecting her sucessor to be named next week.
Prue is going to be a hard act to follow

Monday, January 18, 2010

Teacher in the USA exposing poor quality school dinners

This link may make you feel nostalgic if you are a long time Merton Parents for Better Food in School supporter.

Anonomous teacher is taking a picture of school meal every day and putting it on their blog. Think that this is well worth a follow!

1% of packed lunches as nutritionally balanced as school meals

So is anyone actually surprised by last weeks research on the quality of packed lunches undertaken by the BMJ for the Food Standards Agency? No, I thought not! For what it's worth here is my take on this:

1) School meals have improved - dramatically.In 2005 when we first set up Merton Parents for Better Food in School the meals were so dreadful they commonly didn't contain any fruit and vegetables. That has now changed. Even the worst school dinner has both fruit and veg, limits fried food and is nutritionally balanced.

2)Taking sandwiches, day in day out is very hard to make nutritionally balanced. Even the best efforts are often short of iron and high on sodium.

3)There is a correlation between the items children most often eat from their lunch box and the items most heavily advertised and marketed to children. Yep - sweetened drinks, crisps and confectionery.

Schools could help by maintaining a simple policy of no fizzy drinks, crisps and confectionery to be brought into school. Schools have no problem with being prescriptive in other areas of life - such as the colour of socks, length of hair etc. We could also stop allowing junk food to be marketed to children.

However there is a much simpler solution - one that works well in Finland. Make school meals free and demonstrate in practice how it is possible for kids to not just eat but even enjoy well cooked, tasty balanced meals.

If every child recieved a good school lunch it would be more effective than the best social marketing campaign and make it easier to argue with some parents about the importance of good nutrition

The cost? Yes we may have to spend some money but the savings to the health budget will be immense and we will probably even see a rise in educational standards to boot!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Well done Marcia!

Marcia Twelftree is a remarkable Head teacher who has transformed the whole dining experience at her large secondary school. She is down to earth, frank and full of passion so I was delighted to hear she has become a dame in the latest annual gong fest. I think every head teacher who refuses to get involved with improving their own schools lunches should listen to her presentation! you can read a case study about her here - but it doesn't really do her justice because in real life her committment to the students and her passion come across much more strongly!

Well done Jamie!

Jamie Oliver has won a prestigious TED prize for his fantastic work on school meals! He gets $100,000 and the opportunity to "grant a wish". This "wish" will be unveiled during his TED lecture on 10 February.

This is fantastic news and I have every confidence that he will come up with an exciting plan! You can read more here