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Last Updated: Friday, 11 November 2005, 11:53 GMT
West: Some more please Minister
Dave Harvey
Dave Harvey
Politics Show West

Jamie Oliver with children
Jamie Oliver campaigned for better school meals

It started with a chef. Jamie Oliver, the nation's favourite bad boy in the kitchen, dared to ask for more - and better - school dinners.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly saw she was about to be cast as the Matron in the Workhouse, and promptly offered millions of pounds to make our school dinners healthy.

So that is alright then. Well, as ever, the devil is in the delivery.

The heat has gone off the school meals debate for now, but it will boil up again next year when the government's new standards are meant to bite in school kitchens.

The new rules demand "hot meals, cooked on-site, from fresh and seasonal ingredients".

Yet in the West there are hundreds of schools with no kitchen, and no hot meal service at all.

No place to cook
County No of Schools Schools with no kitchen*
Somerset 271 156
Dorset 137 135
Wiltshire 213 79
Gloucestershire 260 60
Bristol 173 30
Bath & NE Soms 64 0
South Gloucestershire 0
North Somerset 65 0

*This is the number of schools with no kitchen and only a packed lunch service. There are also schools with no kitchen of their own, where neighbouring schools cook for them.

It is the most productive food region of the country, yet most children in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset go to schools without a kitchen.

When Sherborne Abbey Primary was rebuilt in 2000, a perfect spot was chosen on the outskirts of the town, and a purpose built school designed. With no kitchen.

It seems extraordinary now, in these days of Turkey Twizzler rows and "Eat up your Carrots" campaigns.

But since 1980, Dorset has had no county school meals service. Of 137 primaries, just 2 have a kitchen - and they are the fruit of local campaigns.

"Our parents tell me they WOULD like a hot meal for the kids," says Head Teacher Lyn Stockwood, "but not if it's a microwaved ready meal.

"And I cannot see how they can build a kitchen on site here - there just is no space."

Dorset is run by Conservatives - always has been.

And it was a Conservative council under Mrs Thatcher which scrapped the school dinners 25 years ago. But today's Tories are different.

Councillor Toni Coomes, who runs the county's Children's Services, is keen to get those tasty dinners into her young charges. But not by building new kitchens.

"We are thinking outside the box. There is a joint armed services camp at Blandford. I have eaten their food - jolly nice it was too!

"There are big commercial kitchens servicing our nursing homes and meals on wheels services.

"Could we team up with these caterers to produce hot meals for schools?"

It is an intriguing idea, and one that tickles Rob Rees. He is a chef based in Gloucestershire, but unlike Jamie Oliver, he is a committee man.

This week he was named as a board member of the new Schools Food Trust. The Trust is charged with delivering Ruth Kelly's exacting new standards - some call it "Cleaning up after Jamie".

I meet him at a school in Gloucestershire that's light years from the Dorset Sandwich Club. All the meat is farmed two miles away, and the children go and see the chickens.

A cheesemaker in the village supplies the double Gloucester - and her children go to the school too.

"This is fabulous," says Rob. "Dinnertime has been knitted into the fabric of village life, the children learn where their food comes from, and learn respect for their own bodies."

He is so chuffed, he and half a dozen kids from Year 4 cook lunch for the dinner ladies, on our Politics Bus.

There are so few kitchens in the West's primary schools, I worry Ruth Kelly might be pressing the old bus into service on a regular basis!

So what is it like in your school?

We are following the campaign for better school dinners over the next year, and would love to hear from you.

Is your school unusually good at lunchtime? Or unusually bad?

Would you like the experts to come and give the school some tips?

Politics Show

Politics Show West wants to hear from you.

Watch the programme, and let us know what you think.

Join David Garmston on Politics Show West on BBC One, Sunday 20 November 2005 at Noon.

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11 Sep 05 |  Politics Show


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