Jamie Oliver slams Government for ‘eroding' school meal standards

25 November 2011 by
Jamie Oliver slams Government for ‘eroding' school meal standards

Jamie Oliver has stepped up the second wave of his school meals campaign by slamming Education Secretary Michael Gove for "eroding" nutritional standards.

The celebrity chef spoke out against the Government's decision not to make nutritional standards mandatory in free schools and academies, warning Gove that a move away from the rules would be a disaster.

Last month Oliver launched his Feed Me Even Better manifesto, a new eight-point action plan to safeguard the achievements of the industry in the seven years since he kick-started a school food revolution with his Jamie's School Dinners TV series.

Oliver told BBC News this morning: "The bit of work that we did, which is law, was a good bit of work for any government.

"So to erode it, which is essentially what Mr Gove is doing - his view is we let schools do what they want.

"I think that's a wonderful ambition, that everyone's going to be brilliant, but head teachers are more pushed than ever, expected to do more than ever, now they have to be entrepreneurial caterers as well as everything else they have to do."

He said that a third of secondary schools are already academies, with more on the way, and that contract caterers will look to maximise their profit margins by reverting to old standards of service.

"It's very simple. The private companies come in; they're incentivised by profit," he said. "If the standards aren't there they can sell a whole genre of new stuff, going back to the stuff I was fighting seven years ago."

Oliver's concerns echo that of LACA (formerly the Local Authority Caterers Association), which called on the coalition government to address the divide back in July.

Chair Lynda Mitchell spoke to Radio 5 Live today: "Our concern is there appears to be the start of a two-tier system. If nutritional standards aren't a priority in every school, it allows for poorer quality food to creep on to the menus. The same policy should apply across all schools."

However private contractors are adamant that in today's more health-conscious Britain, there will never be a return to the days of the heavily criticised Turkey Twizzlers.

Derick Martin, chief executive of school caterer Innovate Services, said there are a number of reasons for this: "The guidelines have of course made a difference overall, but also we believe that attitudes have significantly changed amongst not only school staff and operators, but with students themselves, who are for more health-conscious today.

"There is also a duty of care on caterers, principals and senior leadership teams at academies to ensure the menus remain healthy, despite exemptions from the guidelines."

The School Food Trust is urging anyone with concerns about food in academy schools to share their evidence - to help the charity ensure all pupils are getting the healthy lunchtime they need.

Chairman Rob Rees said: "We're always very concerned to hear of any school which isn't meeting the national school food standards, or any school choosing not to. All the evidence shows that when children eat better, they do better, so this should be a complete and utter no-brainer for any school wanting to do the best for its pupils.

"We're putting together the evidence on food at new academies for Government so we need to hear from anyone with concerns that an academy is choosing not to meet the national standards - whether that's adding less healthy foods back onto its menu or bringing back vending of chocolate and crisps. We're keen to hear from parents, pupils, teachers, cooks or members of LACA if they have concerns and we will make sure all this evidence goes to Government.

"There are many academies which have been serving up great food for children for a long time - the important thing is that pupils at every academy get the healthy lunchtime they need."

Jamie Oliver's latest school dinners plan gets a mixed response from the industry >>

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Nearly 90% of parents satisfied with children's school meals >>

By Janie Stamford

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