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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
Heads doubt healthy lunch plan
By Gary Eason
Education editor, BBC News website

plate of pasta
Potentially appetising - if it survives the journey to school
Head teachers are accusing government ministers of not thinking through their school healthy eating ideas.

The National Association of Head Teachers welcomed the latest move, a ban on junk food in vending machines.

But it said many schools did not have kitchens, and the money available was not enough to provide them.

General secretary Mick Brookes - a Turkey Twizzlers fan - said children might bring in their own junk: would that be made illegal?

Refurbishment

The government is committing 280m towards improving the standards of school meals in England, with new guidelines coming out next week which will be mandatory from next September.

A spokesman at the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) said a condition of these school food grants was that local authorities without a school meals service must "plan to begin the reintroduction of universal hot meals" by September 2008.

Mick Brookes
To expect schools to provide a quality meal for less than the price of the cheapest unhealthy burger does not stand up to serious scrutiny
Head teachers' leader Mick Brookes
Mr Brookes said 280m appeared to be a lot of money, but was about 12,000 per school.

Many did not have their own kitchens, and the capital cost of providing them could be 10 times the grant being offered.

"Local authorities do use other ways of providing all children with a nutritious hot meals which do not require on site catering, such as a centralised preparation and delivery service," the DfES spokesman added.

And there was a wider programme to refurbish or rebuild half of all England's primary schools over the next 15 years.

"So that's not next year," Mr Brookes observed.

His own former school, Sherwood Junior in Warsop, Nottinghamshire, has no kitchen - meals are brought in daily in containers.

"Personally I think Turkey Twizzlers are delicious," he said.

Nevertheless he had introduced healthier menus - but from 180 of the 260 pupils taking school lunches, take-up had fallen to between 70 and 80 a day by the end of last term, he said.

"If healthy eating is not introduced with care, children and parents will vote with their feet and bring their own box of junk food.

"It is not clear whether the secretary of state will seek to make this a criminal offence!"

He also said that unless the healthy eating grant was sustained, schools would be unable to afford to keep the initiative going as they were already struggling to put in place "a raft of other initiatives" without adequate funding.

Mr Brookes said: "We wholeheartedly support healthy schools programmes, and many schools have made excellent progress in beginning to educate the palates of our nation's children.

"But to expect schools to provide a quality meal for less than the price of the cheapest unhealthy burger does not stand up to serious scrutiny."

Ofsted threat

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly has repeated that school governors will have a responsibility for the food served, which would be monitored by Ofsted.

Mr Brookes said threatening schools with Ofsted was "not helpful".

The leader of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, was also disappointed.

"This is just silly," he said.

"Food inspectors are not asked to inspect the quality of education and education inspectors should not be asked to inspect the quality of food."

An Ofsted spokesperson said that under the inspection framework it introduced a year ago, it would expect schools to present evidence about their general approach to food and healthy eating "as well as more specifically about the standard of school lunches".

Asked about schools that did not provide any lunches, she said inspectors would "look at how a school educates children to eat healthily".

The inspectorate was discussing how it could use detailed surveys of a sample of institutions as well as routine inspections to inform work on school meals in the future.




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