The government has been shamed into having a stab at making school meals more nutritious. The main requirement is simply making more money available for schools to buy in higher quality food than you can get for 37p per child. But the government does not feel it has really intervened properly in a problem unless it does much more than that. So it is doing the usual things:
1. Set up an advisory body of well-paid professionals. This costs money. £60 million in this case, to be precise.
2. Arrange for inspections, in which well-paid professionals will go around schools demanding to know exactly what the children are eating. This costs money, too.
3. Impose centrally-drawn up requirements, requiring more well-paid people to have discussions, go to conferences, have secretaries and send out the instructions, and then insist that the headmaster (or perhaps other staff hired just to read instructions from various parts of the department) spends time reading and making sure the instructions are adhered to. This costs money, too, because the time of school staff has to be paid for.
4. Shift possible blame onto other people. In this case, create a ‘toolkit’ for parents (a subtle hint that it is all the fault of bad parents) and put responsibility onto governors of schools.
5. Spend money on (government-run?) training. This will require training the trainers, creating facilities and taking cooks away from their work in order to ‘train’. This will cost money which will be inefficiently spent.
Also, in this case, we have a throw-back to Old Labour since the Government also appears to be encouraging supply of food by the schools themselves instead of by contractors. This, inevitably, will mean less value for money. New kitchens will be built. The value for money of spending on kitchens that are only used once a day and only in term-time does not appear to concern Ruth Kelly.
At the end of all this, some of the money will probably get through to better meals. But huge amoung of money is going be wasted. This is a case study in what is wrong with this Labour government.
It is amazing how it can make such a dog’s dinner out of something as simple as making a meal.
Oh, and after three years, the extra money for school meals will be reviewed. This is so that in a few years’ time, the chancellor can say, to roars of approval and delight, “the extra spending on school meals has raised standards and I can confirm today that the spending, which was originally only for three years, will be continued for another three years for the benefit of our children”
Here are the announcements as they appear on the Department for Education and Skills website:
• £220 million new funding grants direct to schools and local education authorities to ensure they can transform school meals, including a minimum spend on ingredients of 50p per pupil per day for all primary schools, and 60p per pupil per day for all secondary schools, as well as providing increased training and working hours for school cooks;
• £60 million from the Big Lottery Fund and the Department for Education and Skills to enable a new School Food Trust to give independent support and advice to schools and parents to improve the standard of school meals;
• tough minimum nutrition standards developed by an expert panel to be rolled out to primary and secondary schools from September 2005, and becoming mandatory from September 2006; the panel has been asked to strongly consider the use of nutrient-based standards and whether any individual foodstuffs should be banned;
• proposals to enable parents to work with schools and the School Food Trust to improve the quality of their child’s school meal, with a dedicated ‘toolkit’ for parents to be published in May;
• Ofsted to review the quality of school meals as part of regular school inspections from September, and to perform detailed inspections with nutritionists of the nutritional content of school food in a sample of schools in every local education authority.
From April, a new vocational qualification will be available for school caterers to help them promote healthy food, and ensure they are high status school cooks who are as integral to the whole-school team as teachers and classroom assistants. The Learning and Skills Council will also work with the School Food Trust to develop a ladder of qualifications to meet the skills needs of all kitchen staff, from the basics of hygiene and nutrition through to more specialist preparation and cooking.
New or upgraded school kitchen facilities where fresh produce can be prepared and served will be made a priority through the current school rebuilding and refurbishment programmes. The Government is investing £5.5bn in 2005-06 rising to £6.3bn in 2007-08 to improve secondary school buildings, and at least £1.8 billion to improve primary schools in 2007-08.