Saturday, November 26, 2011

School Food Nightmare - UPDATE

If we don't defend the nutritional food standards it is highly likely school food will return to the appalling pre 2005 standards.

Considering Mr Gove is such a big fan of history it is ironic that he spectacularly fails to learn from it. In 1980 when Thatcher was busy busy ripping the heart out of the school system she abolished nutritional food standards for school meals, freed schools from having to provide them and introduced a nasty form of tendering, (compulsory, competitive tendering) which saw decent school cooks slung out on the scrap heap whilst fast food merchants moved in. She also allowed changes to the pricing system which meant unscrupulous caterers could sell junk, mark up it up, make profits while our kids health & nutrition suffered.

And what was the result? Well school numbers fell drastically (way more spectacularly than ANYTHING Jamie Oliver caused) Cooks left in droves and the standard of meals fell.

Teachers knew it. Heads certainly knew it. The Soil Association knew it. Catering staff and dinner ladies knew it. However most parents didn't. They assumed their children were being fed the sort of the food they had been traditionally served in the past.

When Jamie Oliver revealed this there was an outcry. I won't bore you with the details but suffice to say as a result the government set up The School Food Trust. It did an amazing job in drawing up new nutritional standards and kicking out the confectionery and fizzy drinks from schools that some caterers relied on to make a profit. They were criticised, mocked and ridiculed by some caterers and politicians but they stuck to their guns. They proved that you could serve tasty and healthy school meals that crucially children would eat. I was appointed as a trustee to the board so saw first hand what a great job they were doing. School meals were not all perfect but they were dramatically better than the junk served pre 2005. Anyone who doesn't believe me please look through my archive of photos.

Cue the coalition government. No one expected that they would invest in school meals and push for improvements but few expected they would deliberately try to subvert the excellent work of the last 5 years. The first thing Gove did within days of taking office was to cancel the roll out of free school meals to kids from families under the official poverty line. This money has gone from the mouths of the poor to a fund for academies.

Gove has deliberately chosen to exempt all free schools and more importantly academies from the nutritional standards. He knew it would be deeply unpopular to actively overrule the standards for all schools - there would have been a national outcry with the medical organisations, health charities and food campaigners up in arms. Instead his sly ruling that nutritional standards don't apply to academies means the standards will now be undermined as academy schools grow and grow.

So what should we do? I want the School Food Trust to stand shoulder to shoulder with Jamie Oliver, Local Authority Caterers Asoociation, Food for Life Partnership and The Children's Food Campaign. Michael Gove needs to be told in no uncertain terms to make the nutritional standards applicable to all school.

If they don't then the school food revolution is doomed. I am in the process of writing to all these organisations and I will post up their responses when I get them. We need a bit more solidarity and the above organisations should be working together much more closely.


I have now written a short etter to all the above organisations. See below.

Dear friends,

I am writing to you all to ask you to stand shoulder to shoulder with Jamie Oliver.

Refusing to insist that nutritional standards apply to ALL schools is a major threat to the school food improvements we have seen since 2005.

I urge you to write a joint letter to Gove calling on him to apply nutritional standards to ALL schools. If he refuses then start a mass campaign. You will get huge public support with medical organizations, health charities, teachers unions and parents lining up to support you.

Regardless of how tough things are for your organizations at the moment I believe the future of the school meal service depends on this one decision and a failure to stand up to Gove now will have dire consequences on the meals our children will be eating.

If you don’t win this then much of the excellent work you have done in the past will be for nothing.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

background info on school meals