Could Eton Mess be off the menu at Eton?

A review of school meals might be extended to private schools as well as academies

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The Independent Online

The men asked by Michael Gove to review school meals are considering defying the Education Secretary over academies' food standards.

Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, in an interview with The Independent on Sunday, denied it was "rolling pins at dawn" with Jamie Oliver, a staunch critic of Mr Gove over school food, and said they hoped he would back their recommendations when they are launched next spring.

Mr Dimbleby, who was asked by Mr Gove to review school meals after meeting on holiday in Morocco, and Mr Vincent, his co-founder of the healthy fast-food chain Leon, have told the Education Secretary they are looking at including academies and free schools in a new school-food blueprint. The pair told The IoS that even private schools could be included under a simpler framework for healthy food standards – meaning, in theory, that Eton mess could be off the menu at Eton.

Mr Gove provoked controversy last year when he allowed academies and free schools to be exempt from nutritional standards introduced after Jamie Oliver highlighted the poor quality of food served to pupils. He has insisted that the nutritional standards are too restrictive for the semi-independent institutions.

Mr Vincent said the idea of a simpler, less bureaucratic system of healthy eating standards was a "strong hypothesis". Asked whether they could force academies to abide by a new framework, Mr Dimbleby said: "We are certainly not ruling it out. We said to Michael Gove: we understand your view on trying to remove regulation and let people do what they want. But we need to be able to take a view on standards independently and we need that to be in the scope."

Asked if private schools could be included in the recommendations, Mr Vincent said: "I think we have a role to recommend anything we want to. Why not? If you follow the logic, absolutely."

The minister asked Mr Dimbleby, a writer and chef whose father is the broadcaster David Dimbleby, to review school food after a discussion during their Morocco holiday. Mr Dimbleby said: "I've cared about school food, talked about helping it, for a long time. What was I meant to do? Say no? It's complete madness."

Mr Vincent said he had spent "70 per cent of my time" on the school food plan, including spending £8,000 of his own money on travel expenses and, during one school visit, buying a saucepan for its kitchen. "I think that Michael Gove is decent. I think Jamie Oliver is decent … and sometimes there is a tendency for decent people to create strange fights in the media or in this crazy sort of matrix world that we create. And I find it a very challenging job, a very important job, to get over that, to allow these good people to work together."

The Local Authority Catering Association is publishing a survey of parents' and children's views of school meals tomorrow to coincide with National School Meals Week.