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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 May, 2005, 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK
Kelly hails school catering staff
Tony Blair and Jamie Oliver
Oliver led a high-profile campaign for healthier school meals
School catering staff will be hailed as "unsung heroes" by education secretary Ruth Kelly this week.

The recognition will follow TV chef Jamie Oliver's attempts to try to improve the quality of school lunches.

Ms Kelly is to say on Wednesday that school catering staff have been taken for granted and will be given training.

She will say new vocational qualifications "will recognise for the first time the crucial skills and experience" they bring to the job.

"It will ensure that everyone in the school kitchen aspires to the same high standards," Ms Kelly will say at a Unison conference in London.

School dinner staff are to go back to the classroom as part of a 280m government overhaul of school dinners.

'Gimmick'

Around 15,000 staff across England will take the course from next year, which includes how best to use fresh food.

Chef Jamie Oliver, who handed Tony Blair a petition signed by 270,000 people demanding better school meals.

I've worked in the industry, it's going to be like teaching me to suck eggs basically
Margaret Light, school diner worker

"It will ensure that everyone in the school kitchen aspires to the same high standards."

Conservatives have branded the scheme a "gimmick" while one dinner lady said it would be like teaching her "to suck eggs".

Margaret Light, who works in a school in Cumbria, said the course would be useful for some members of staff but not those with experience.

She said: "It's a good idea in the sense that people who are not trained, it's giving them a standard to achieve.

Jamie Oliver
Oliver led a high-profile campaign for healthier school meals

"But people like me, I'm a trained chef, I've got my health and hygiene, I've worked in the industry, it's going to be like teaching me to suck eggs basically."

Oliver's Channel 4 series Jamie's School Dinners involved submitting the petition to Downing Street and the government subsequently pledged an extra 280m over three years to improve meals in England's schools.

Ministers are giving 220m to schools and Local Education Authorities for ingredients so at least 50p is spent on dinners for primary school pupils and 60p for secondary school children.

The School Food Trust, which is receiving 60 million, is looking at banning certain junk food and studying how schools can get out of catering contracts.

Stringent nutritional standards will be adopted from September and subject to Ofsted inspection 12 months later.




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