School meals campaigner Jamie Oliver has warned the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, he is endangering the health of millions of children.
The television chef is incensed over the Government's decision to exempt its flagship academies and free schools from minimum nutritional standards. He says academies have been able to install vending machines selling sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks – items banned in the rest of the service.
Mr Gove's decision stems from his philosophy of allowing free schools and academies to run their own affairs – free from bureaucratic interference. They are, for instance, also exempt from a rule insisting they employ fully qualified teachers.
However, Oliver, inset – in an interview with The Observer – said: "This mantra that we are not going to tell (academy) schools what to do just isn't good enough in the midst of the biggest obesity academic ever. The public health of five million children should not be left to luck or chance. I have got nothing against [Mr Gove] personally, but the health of millions of children could be affected by this one man. When there is a national obesity crisis unfolding around us, I honestly think he is playing with fire." The chef said he was "totally mystified" as to why academies are being allowed to determine what food should be on offer.
Oliver, who has recently taken his fight to improve school meals to America, said the national standards should apply to all schools and called for headteachers of academies to be given guidance on the type of food they should be serving.
New nutritional standards – limiting the number of times chips could be served at lunchtime in schools – came into force after Oliver's campaign through his Channel Four show, Jamie's School Dinners, to improve the quality of meals.
A Department for Education spokesman said: "There's been a lasting culture change in attitudes since Jamie's School Dinners. Heads know that failing to invest in good, nutritious food is a false economy and parents won't tolerate reconstituted turkey being put back on the menu."