Heads welcome extra school dinner cash

By Danielle Nuttall and Juliette MaxamHEADTEACHERS in East Anglia have welcomed the Government's pledge to plough £280million into improving school dinners.

By Danielle Nuttall and Juliette Maxam

HEADTEACHERS in East Anglia have welcomed the Government's pledge to plough £280million into improving school dinners.

The funding package promises to “transform” the quality of school dinners by ensuring schools spend at least 50p per pupil per day for all primary schools, and 60p per pupil per day for all secondary schools.

The announcement came yesterday as celebrity chef Jamie Oliver delivered a 271,677-signature Feed Me Better petition to Downing Street demanding better food for pupils.

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Many parents were shocked to learn from Mr Oliver's Channel 4 programme, Jamie's School Dinners, that schools spent just 37p on a typical meal.

Speaking after the Government's pledge, Geoff Barton, headteacher of Kind Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, said: “It would be churlish not to welcome any additional funding, which will make it easier to provide healthy food for youngsters. Congratulations to Jamie Oliver.

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“Parents have a central role. Children learn not just what type of food to eat, but also the pleasure of eating socially.

“One of the things we have been doing at school is making eating a civilised and pleasurable event and that should be happening at home as well.”

Julie Winyard, headteacher of Benhall Primary School, near Saxmundham, also backed the Government's pledge.

“I think school meals are highly under-resourced. We have a marvellous cook here and she does a fantastic job based on the money she has, which is a very small amount,” she said.

“I hope more parents will buy into the meal service if they feel their will be more resources to provide better meals for their children. Being in rural Suffolk, we have as many fresh ingredients as possible.”

Union leaders also welcomed the funding, but claimed they had been lobbying for improvements for years and yesterday's announcement was “too little, too late”.

Martin Goold, county secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: “Obviously we welcome the belated announcement they are going to do something about school dinners.

“This has been going on for years and only after Jamie Oliver steps in and an election looms that it suddenly becomes important.”

Mr Goold said scientific evidence had shown that a proper balanced diet was not only good for the brain, but also improved behaviour, which was positive news for teachers.

Keith Anderson, Suffolk federation secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, said: “It's something we welcome. As a union, we have concerns about the sorts of food students are eating and the effects it can have on their behaviour.

“We are what we eat and we want to see students have a balanced and nutritional diet and encourage them to adapt a healthy lifestyle.

“Jamie Oliver is to be commended for the way he has raised the concern. The fact there is an election coming up is bringing forward policies that are good.”

Iris Pummell, Essex County Council education cabinet member, said the Government's commitment would not change the county's decision to scrap its school meals service.

“I'm sure this money will be welcomed by many schools. I hope that when and if this money does come through it's enough money to make all schools look at providing hot meals,” she added.

Colchester County High School cook Martyn Gosling, who has been offering Jamie Oliver-style lunches for four years, said: “Any increase they give for school meals will be excellent, but the main problem is staffing, as Jamie Oliver found out, because there hasn't been the need to cook for so long they've probably employed people who can't cook and now they're expected to turn out a cooked school meal.”

He added catering companies might use the extra money to give bigger portions of the same processed food rather than cooking healthier lunches.

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