Please do not feed the kids
November 5, 2010 6 Comments
I read an interesting article in The Guardian by Carrie Quinlan today. In it she writes about our beloved education secretary Michael Gove. There’s not much money hanging around at the moment as we know and Mr Gove has decided in his wisdom that money potentially ear-marked for an expansion of the free school meal scheme for children living below the poverty line is better spent on a fund to encourage councils, head teachers and private businesses to turn around failing schools. It’s a tough decision- feeding children or better schools? Quinlan’s stand is that school meals are more important at the moment but judging by the comments on the article there’s a lot of interest in the subject.
School meals are something I know about: I remember how dreadful they were a few years ago and how hard some of us tried to improve them at local level, being dismissed at every turn- after all, schools are about education and teaching and not about providing cordon bleu meals and restaurant standard dining rooms. Or are they?
Then along came tousle-haired pukka pixie Jamie Oliver to remind us that food and water are the basics of life and local councils were suddenly shamed into providing better funding and better catering contracts for schools. Catering companies had to review how they operated- chucking out the fizzy pop and chocolate that makes money and adhering to tricky nutrient-based standards. Parent power has been instrumental in this and parent campaign groups sprang up all over the place like the now famous Merton Parents for Better Food in Schools group. Before we knew it, kitchens were being built and improved, hot meals cooked from scratch and numbers of children taking a school meal shooting up. There’s still a long way to go. Standards are not always as good as they could be in secondary schools in particular. I was in a school just this morning where there were all sorts of nutrition crimes being committed in break service.
For many poorer children this may be the only good quality meal they have during the day and parents should be secure in the knowledge that their children are getting feed properly at school. You have to be pretty poor to actually qualify for free school meal and I suspect that more children will become eligible as more and more people find themselves without work.
Food is a basic of life. The link between a healthier diet and attainment at school has been well documented. Children have smaller systems and need carbohydrate-heavy meals to keep the going and sugar, e-numbers and caffeine have a greater effect on their growing frames than on an adult’s. Schools already have to cope with children who have been fed huge amounts of sugar at breakfast (if they have breakfast at all), children who have tucked into crisps, chocolate and so called energy drinks on the way to school and pack some extras in their bags for break and lunch.
It’s already a battle to get children and young people to eat healthier foods as well as junk and the poorest are the most vulnerable. So better schools or better food? Yes, we need superb schools with excellent head teachers but unless the basic physical and emotional needs of children are met they won’t make the maximum of difference. Is it too much to ask for both for our children?