Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Calling all UK school food campaigners!

Recent government comments about healthy eating have caused huge concerns amongst those of us campaigning to improve school food. Throw away comments by Andrew Lansley (Health Secretary) about Jamie Oliver's healthy school food experiment "failing" and invitations to junk food companies to take over healthy eating campaigning are alarming. Government intervention over the last 5 years has protected school children from nutritionally poor food. Nutritional standards for school meals has meant that unscrupulous caterers are no longer allowed to make a profit by selling our kids rubbish. A lot of parents, dinner ladies and food campaigners have worked long and hard to ensure this happened. we are not going to roll over and allow these gains to be overturned. Next week I plan to meet up with various grassroot campaigners to discuss what we need to do. Please make contact if you would like to be involved in these discussions. I will report back next week.

Well, this is the last school dinner children in Merton primary schools will be eating until September. Prices are set to rise to £2.00 a meal. This includes a 16p subsidy from Merton Council. There has been a steady improvement in the quality of the meals over the school year and in my own school the completion of the school kitchen has seen a dramatic improvement. What ever happens at government level Merton Parents for Better Food in School will fight to ensure every school child in Merton is offered only good quality, tasty, freshly prepared meals in pleasant surroundings.

Next academic year the catering company that provides primary school meals will be taking over the catering at the secondary schools. We are expecting improvements and will be monitoring closely.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Excellent article in Lancet

"It is perhaps not surprising that Andrew Lansley is seeking to make a break from decisions made by the previous administration. Yet he is in danger of distracting attention from the very real public health risks posed by the relentless growth of obesity and diabetes. Even in the course of today's severe financial belt-tightening, the UK's leaders should avoid gratuitous and unhelpful public statements. Instead, they should devote their energies to framing a forward-looking health policy—one that offers clear and tangible support to effective education for families on how important a good diet is to their children's growth, health, and future."

Wise words taken from the last para of an excellent article in the Lancet. You can read the article in full here.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Merton's school food figures are up!

Later on today new figures will be announced showing the proportion of children now buying a school meal. These figures will be of great interest following the ill informed comments of our Health Secretary Andrew Lansley since he declared Jamie Olivers attempt to improve school food as a failure last week.

I don't know what the national trend will be (though I suspect it will be up)However I know that the proportion of children eating school dinners in the London Borough of Merton is up

Secondary schools
2009 37.4%
2010 46.9%

Primary schools
2009 33.3%
2010 35.2%

So Mr Lansley, here is proof that children will eat tasty affordable school meals. Jamie and all the other school dinner campaigners were absolutely right to insist on healthy food. I will post a link to the national statistics as soon as they are up.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Letters page in today's Guardian

Some great letters in today's Guardian about Andrew lansley's ill informed comments about school dinners that are worth a read. Click here

Friday, July 2, 2010

Actual School food take up

I was on BBC Breakfast yesterday at 8.10 to talk about Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley's comment that the Jamie Oliver campaign to get school kids to eat as healthy food had failed. He cited as "evidence" the fact that school meal uptake had fallen.

Lansley needs to look at the bigger picture. For the last 30 years there has been a decline in school meals. In fact when a Thatcherite government abolished minimum nutritional standards numbers eating the food fell. When compulsory competitive tendering was introduced numbers declined yet further. Of course when Jamie Oliver revealed the poor quality of the food many parents were so disgusted they stopped buying school meals so numbers fell. When the new food standards were introduced so that caterers were no longer able to sell mars and coke to kids - numbers fell. But the crucial thing that Andrew Lansley managed to miss is that school food numbers for the first time in 30 years are now beginning to grow. The last 2 years have seen an increase.

I spend a lot of time with both parents and young people and the biggest reason they cite for not having school food is cost. This has been born out by the recent Ofsted report that gives feedback from one parent who describes choosing which of her children can a school meal in day as she can't afford to pay for all of them.

It is a complex challenge for all of us to get as many children as possible to have good quality tasty affordable school meals. This isn't helped by uniformed comments by high profile ministers. I have invited Mr Lansley to come to Merton to talk to children and families for himself. Watch this space ....

Incidentally, if you saw BBC Breakfast yesterday the BBC mistakenly described me as School Food Trust rather than Chair of Merton parents for Better Food in Schools. Whilst I am on the board of the School Food Trust I was not speaking on their behalf but rather expressing my personal views.