Channel 4 investigation into school food was a missed opportunity, say campaigners

11 September 2012 by
Channel 4 investigation into school food was a missed opportunity, say campaigners

A Channel 4 investigation into the issues around school food was a missed opportunity, according to disappointed campaigners for healthier school meals.

Dispatches: the School Food Scandal, which aired last night, aimed to examine the evidence that the strategies to improve the food served in schools are fast coming undone.

But school meal champions said it focused on fast food and politics and in doing so failed to address the real challenges faced on the education front line.

Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of fast-casual restaurant Leon, said that one of the issues that the documentary raised is that there is still work to be done in the education catering sector.

"What it didn't show, which was a shame, was the improvement that has been made since Jamie Oliver did his work," he said. "An enormous number of people - teachers, cooks, charities, the School Food Trust - have made a massive difference."

Dimbleby, who alongside his business partner John Vincent has been tasked with conducting a fresh review of school food, told Caterer and Hotelkeeper that one of the three areas they will focus on is a plan to ensure that the rich best practice that currently exists in a lot of schools is made available for others to learn from.

School caterer Cucina's managing director Steve Quinn, who featured in the programme, agreed: "Where are the centres of excellence and the areas of best practice? More people are starting to do more things right, but not enough was followed up on to make the practice of the best caterers the norm."

This view is shared by Lindsay Graham, school food and health adviser in Scotland, who called for the Government to provide more central guidance and enforcement of the nutritional standards.

"I still strongly feel that it missed a trick when it comes to monitoring regulation and enforcement," she explained. "I don't think half of the issues that were brought up in Dispatches would have been so awful if enforcement had begun when it invested billions of pounds of public money on improving the services in the first place."

Dispatches also looked at the way fast food and take-away shops near schools impact the on-site meal take-up and the efforts of some councils to restrict their numbers. But Dimbleby pointed to a simpler solution.

He said: "Schools need to take action, regardless of what's happening outside, by operating a stay-on-site policy. I've seen a lot of schools make a huge difference simply by doing that one thing."

The decision to keep children on site is down to the school governing body and head teacher. Anne Bull, head of catering services and chair designate of the Local Authorities Caterers Association (LACA), said that in situations where such a policy hasn't been adopted, caterers would be wise to take an ‘if you can't beat them, join them approach'.

"For example, we've noticed the rise in popularity of the Subway model so in my authority we've rolled out a similar fresh sandwich concept, adapted accordingly to fit the guidelines, that has done really well," she said.

By Janie Manzoori-Stamford

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