Wednesday, October 20, 2010

There are school dinners ....and there are school dinners

Click here to look at some amazing pictures of school food. Unbelievable!

Now have a look at the other end of the spectrum. Click here to see some incredibly unappetising unhealthy junk available every day to American children and young people. YUCK

This weekend I am off to an event organised by Slow Food called Terra Madre. I will be meeting up with school dinner campaigners from all over the world. I am especially excited to be meeting Dr Susan Rubins who has been tireless in quest to rescue American school children from poor nutrition.She set up Better School Food Will be taking my laptop, my video and a teenager to record our conversations so watch this space!

Friday, October 15, 2010

More detail from the Department of Education re future of School Food Trust

Below is a quote taken from The Department for Education press release about yesterdays announcement.

“The Government is committed to ensuring that pupils can eat healthy, nutritious school food. The School Food Trust has developed significant expertise around the school food agenda over the past five years and continues to have an important role to play in supporting schools and local authorities to meet the nutritional standards. As a Community Interest Company, the Trust will continue to be able to play that role and to provide advice to the Government, which is informed by the practical work it does out in the field. It will also have the freedom to sell its services - advice, guidance, research - to local authorities, schools, caterers and others on a commercial basis.

Community Interest Companies (CICS) are limited companies, with special additional features, created for the use of people who want to conduct a business or other activity for community benefit, and not purely for private advantage. This is achieved by a "community interest test" and "asset lock", which ensures that the CIC is established for community purposes and the assets and profits are dedicated to these purposes. Registration of a company as a CIC has to be approved by the Regulator who also has a continuing monitoring and enforcement role.

We expect that the Trust will continue to take forward a number of activities for the Department. The level of future DfE support for the Trust is dependent on the spending review outcome and the tasks SFT are asked to undertake for DfE.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What now for The School Food Trust?

So I no longer sit on the board of a Quango. Today the government announced that the School Food Trust will lose its "non departmental body" status. The government want the Trust to be "retained" and have have said it will commission its services. It already is a charity and will move toward operating as Community Interest Company.

So what does that mean in English? My interpretation is that it has survived. Fans of feeding junk food to kids will be disappointed. There will be no ripping up of school food standards and a return to the bad old days of turkey twizzlers and the "muck off a truck" as the Soil Association famously once described school food.

My personal response is that I have every confidence the staff of the School Food Trust will do their best to make this work. I am not thrilled that the government see this as charity work and it makes me wonder about their commitment to improving childrens health. The school food revolution is NOT over!

You can see the School Food Trust response here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Some recent school lunches

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Children served dreadful food in hospital

It is hardly rocket science - children who are in hospital should be offered good quality tasty, healthy food that will nourish them. Yet a study published today reports children are served some dreadful junk whilst in hospital. Heavily processed foods containing sky high levels of salt fat and sugar fill the menus. Very little of the food offered would meet the standards set for school food. Isn't it screamingly obvious to suggest we should have minimum nutritional standards for hospital food?

It seems to me the main problem with the food is because it is cheap, industrially mass produced stuff which relies on high levels of fat and salt to give it any flavour. This is not good value for money. I am not advocating a puritanical health drive - merely good quality food, nicely prepared that is appetising and appealing for children.

Joan Walley MP is calling on the government to invest in decent food for all of the public sector. Click here to support her campaign

Friday, October 1, 2010

"Free" schools - the future?

I was invited to take part in a round table discussion for the BBC politics show about Mr Gove's idea for "free" schools where parents can set up there own independent school using state money. The reason I was asked to take part was because of the campaigning I have done with Merton Parents.

It was suggested to me that since I feel strongly about school food why didn't I set up a school that could focus on teaching great food skills, - gardening, cooking and with terrific school meals.

Now as attractive as that sounds I think this plan has several fatal flaws!

We want good school meals for ALL children in state schools. It is not an optional extra. When we first set up Merton Parents for Better Food in Schools our original demand was for a school kitchen in each and every school. The parents from Wimbledon Park had actually already got a decent kitchen by fundraising themselves but crucially they still supported our campaign because they understood this was something every school needed.

We live in a democracy. We led a democratic campaign to persuade the local authority we had a good case and it worked! The council backed down from their initially hostile position and changed its policy in response. If the response in future to problems with schools is simply to set up your own school we will be letting our children down.

If we had just opted out in the way Toby Young - a parent who wants to set up his own school, argues we should then there would be 39 schools in Merton with out kitchens, new improved menus and decent caterers. My advice to Toby or anyone else wanting to set up a free school was to get stuck in and campaign to get the improvements you want to see in state education.

Of course I am keen to persuade my own children's schools to take a lead on running school gardens and teaching cookery but that is not enough. we need to persuade heads, governors, local authority, parents & education ministers that all schools would benefit from good quality food education.

If I did set up a fantasy free school - would be great for the kids who got in but the resources we would take away from the remaining schools would be immoral.

As both Disney, high school musical and the Tory party say, " we're all in this together!" Let's help our schools to develop and not set up new schools in competition. Turning schools into a free market experiment could be disastrous and will threaten the viability of successful state comprehensives.

The program I took part in will be shown this sunday. Of course I may end up on the cutting room floor!