The moment when Jamie Oliver showed us what actually went in to our children’s school dinners – the infamous Turkey Twizzler – persuaded a nation that we owed our young people better.
At a time when childhood obesity is becoming one of our nation’s most pressing public health problems, Jamie showed the public and politicians that the deregulation of school food was having a disastrous effect. The quality of food had fallen dramatically, and as a result, so had the number of children eating it.
The improvements to school food introduced by the Labour government, following campaigning by Jamie and organisations like the Children’s Food Campaign (which, to declare an interest, I used to run), have been a success. More children are eating school food and the quality of the meals has risen enormously.
Leading Tories have always hated the idea of improving school food. Andrew Lansley floated the idea of getting rid of the school food regulations just after the election, and although the outcry forced him to back down he believes that ensuring children eat well is somehow ‘nanny state’. Similarly Michael Gove seems to believe that minimum standards for children’s nutrition are part of the ‘bureaucracy’ we should free schools from.
As a result the school food rules do not apply to academies, the school’s directly responsible to Mr Gove. Although this problem applied to academies set-up under the Labour government this was not a major problem because there were only a few hundred of these at most. Now a million children study in academies and the Government envisages all schools converting at some point.
This leaves a million children – and more in future – unprotected from junk food in schools and could take us back to the bad old days of Turkey Twizzlers if cuts to school budgets force academies to slim their food budgets.
Children attending academies deserve better. They should receive the same high quality school food that all other children do. Well nourished children learn and behave better so national standards for school food should be seen as a cornerstone of our education system and not as part of the bureaucratic burden on schools.
School meals really matter. For many children they are the most important meal of the day. With the rise of extended schools more children than ever before get at least two of their daily meals in school. And they have a symbolic importance; because many parents will look to their school to set an example and so think that if their child gets junk food at school it’s OK to have it at home as well.
I urge you to back the SOS school food campaign started by the Children’s Food campaign and backed by the Jamie Oliver Foundation, Local Authority Caterers and a range of other expert groups. Lets stop the Government undoing one of the success stories of the Labour government and removing the food standards that have done so much to improve school food.
All of our children deserve nothing less.