Page last updated at 15:32 GMT, Thursday, 26 March 2009

Minister defends school dinners

School Reporters Albert and Waad
Albert and Waad found Ed Balls "surprisingly direct"

Ed Balls may have thought that, after being grilled by Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys, being interviewed by a couple of schoolchildren would be a piece of cake.

But he was wrong.

Mr Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, was given a hard time by Albert and Waad who interviewed him as part of the BBC's School Report.

The Q and A session took place on camera with the minister in the Westminster studio while his interrogators were at Television Centre in west London.

Waad, who is in Year 8 at Clapton Girls Technology College in the London borough of Hackney, said: "I was expecting him not to answer most of the questions but he did. He was surprisingly direct."

Tough questioning

Albert, 13, who attends Cardinal Pole School in Hackney, said their toughest question was on the subject of Sats tests.

"We asked him about the problems with Sats tests this year - they have been marked late and there have been all sorts of problems. We asked him what he was going to do about it," he said.

Waad said: "He said there were problems last year and there probably would be this year, which is why he has stopped them, but he did not say what he planned to do about it. He did say he didn't plan to scrap Sats."

The pair also asked him about a perennial bone of contention in schools up and down the country - why are school dinners so bad?

Waad explained: "They never taste of anything. Sometimes they're good but not normally."

"And the price for a meal in our school has gone up from £1.40 to £1.60," Albert chipped in.

It was a great honour because you wouldn't really meet MPs in everyday life. It was my first time on TV and my first time interviewing someone like that in England

Mr Balls said schools had introduced much healthier options since TV chef Jamie Oliver famously visited the then prime minister Tony Blair to discuss the subject.

Kept calm

Waad said Mr Balls never lost his temper during the interview and she added: "He was calm all the time and he smiled a lot."

One very topical question the pair asked him - in view of an article in one of Thursday's newspapers which suggested he was being groomed to become the next Chancellor of the Exchequer - was whether he would like that job.

Mr Balls admitted he would like to be Chancellor one day but, very diplomatically, he said he enjoyed the job he has at the moment.

He was asked about his favourite subject at school and who had been his most inspirational teacher.

Mr Balls said he had enjoyed history - he was apparently very keen on the Anglo-Saxons and the Romans - and he was inspired by his economics teacher, although he did not name him.

Asked about the experience, Waad said: "It was a great honour because you wouldn't really meet MPs in everyday life. It was my first time on TV and my first time interviewing someone like that in England."

Albert added: "I was very nervous at the start but then I got into it and I felt more confident."


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