Jamie Oliver’s fear that school dinners in the UK could revert to junk food
Published 25/10/2011 | 12:15
Progress made on school meals in recent years "seems to be at risk", according to the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
In an interview with the Guardian, he accused British Education Secretary Michael Gove and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley of putting at risk the changes that happened after his 2005 Channel 4 series, Jamie's School Dinners.
His campaign for children to have better meals led to the previous government banning junk food from school canteens and vending machines and, in 2006, new rules to make food healthier were introduced in English schools.
Strict nutritional guidelines were made compulsory in primary schools in 2008 and the same policy was introduced in secondaries in 2009.
The Guardian said that some of Mr Gove's decisions on school meals had led to unease among health and education campaigners.
Mr Gove has ended the school lunch grant as a separate source of funding and exempted academies from the nutritional standards for all other state schools that Labour introduced after Oliver's programmes highlighted the poor quality of much school food, it added.
Oliver told the newspaper: "Honestly, I'm very worried. I've had a couple of very cordial, interesting meetings with the secretary of state for education and although I would love to believe that Mr Gove has school food high on his agenda, I've not heard anything so far worth celebrating.
"I'm sure he realises that there are clear benefits to having good food in school: it improves a child's behaviour, willingness to learn and concentration at school, and that in turn helps children to achieve more and perform better.
"You would have to be an idiot to ignore all of the academic research that's been published to support these things, but still I don't see him or his ministerial colleagues in health actually doing anything to ensure that the improvements we have made over the last six years remain in place and are built upon - instead the progress we've made seems to be at risk."
He added: "I used to have similar rants about the previous government so I'm absolutely not siding with one political party."
In a new eight-point action plan for extending schools' influence over children's eating habits and knowledge of food, Oliver asks ministers to apply the nutritional standards to all schools and says "it would be incredibly disappointing and counterproductive not to make them mandatory for new academies too", the newspaper reported.
School Food Trust chairman Rob Rees said: "We completely agree that children signing up for free school meals must be encouraged to eat those meals - not just used as a way to access funding for schools; it's something we've campaigned on ever since we began our work.
"Focusing on cooking as an essential life skill for children, from a very early age, is also vital - that's why we've recommended to Government that cooking should be compulsory for study under the national curriculum, and why we train staff at nurseries, children's centres and childcare providers on running practical cooking sessions for families.
"Offering schools cash incentives for increasing take up sounds good in theory - but we're concerned that in practice, this sort of system might penalise children at schools where they've got the most to do to improve take up, and may not deal with underlying issues behind poor take up and the whole lunchtime experience. We've been working on alternatives which are being submitted to Government, but ultimately it's a question of how we can best motivate all schools on this."