Dinner ladies told to take on the takeaways with cut-price deals


The school meals service was launched some decades after Charles Dickens put the words "Please, sir, I want some more" into Oliver Twist's mouth.

Now satisfying the appetite of children is a lot more complicated with two-for-one deals and cut-price meals serving as the latest attempt to win children from the lure of the local takeaway and back into the school canteen.

New reforms proposed by the Government will allow such meal deals to be offered to targeted groups of pupils to try and ensure they enjoy a healthy meal instead of adding to the country's obesity problems.

The catalyst for a new shake-up of the service to be introduced in the new year has been an increase in the number of takeaway shops opening up near to school gates in a bid to prise pupils out of school at lunchtime with eye-catching cheap deals.

As a result, ministers are relaxing regulations which insist each school charges all of their pupils a flat rate for their dinners. They hope, particularly, that the move will persuade schools to cut the price of dinners for children in the first year of secondary schooling.

Latest figures on the take-up of school meals show a 6.5 percentage point decline between the last year of primary and first year of secondary schooling.

Another suggestion is offering a reduced price for second children to help parents meet the cost of school dinners.

The Children's minister Sarah Teather said: "These new powers are an important step in tackling childhood obesity and will mean schools can help hard-pressed families." Under the present arrangements, schools can only vary the price of their dinners if they individually appeal to the Secretary of State for Education to do so.

The spotlight was turned on school meals following Jamie Oliver's campaign through his Channel 4 series. It led to the then government reintroducing minimum nutritional standards.

At first, though, the shake-up led to a drop in take-up and mothers handing their children burgers and chips through the school railings. Others pupils deserted their schools at lunchtime to visit their local takeaways.

However, in the past two years, it appeared that the TV chef's campaign was gaining momentum as the numbers eating school meals rose. According to the latest figures, the take-up of school lunches now stands at 44.1 per cent in primary schools (compared to 41.4 per cent in 2009-10) and 37.6 per cent in secondaries (compared to 35.8 per cent).

Judy Hargadon, chief executive of the School Food Trust, said: "When children eat better, they do better – which is why we want to see more children able to have a healthy school meal every day and why it's in the interests of schools to do everything they can to boost take-up."

Examples of cut-price deals already offered include five days of free lunches for children starting reception classes in schools in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, and Ealing, west London.

"Already we've seen some great examples of pioneering schools keen to offer special deals," said Ms Teather. "Now others across the country will be able to follow suit."

History lesson: Soggy semolina and beyond

* The first school meals were offered in 1870 when a number of schools offered breakfast and dinner for the poorest children. Breakfast consisted of porridge with milk and treacle followed by bread with margarine or dripping. Dinner was typically gruel followed by an apple.

* It was not until 1944 with the R A Butler Education Act that it became compulsory for all schools to provide dinners with an agreed nutritional content.

* In 1980 Margaret Thatcher ended minimum nutritional standards and removed the obligation to provide meals. Several authorities abolished the dinner service altogether – providing packed lunches for those entitled to free school meals.

* In 1997, Labour pledged to get schools to open for extended hours – bringing back school breakfasts for children from the poorest families.

* In 2004, TV chef Jamie Oliver launched a campaign to improve school dinners through his Channel 4 series, Jamie's School Dinners. This led Labour to restore minimum nutritional standards for all, meaning deep fried foods were only served twice a week and sweet fizzy drinks were outlawed. Schools were also urged to discourage parents supplying their children with packed lunches – a survey showed only one per cent of these reached the minimum required standard. Schools themselves introduced a range of measures to remove the need for pupils to bring dinner money to school and fall prey to school bullies. Some introduced fingerprinting for pupils as a method of triggering payment, others introduced a swipe card system.

* 2012 and the Coalition Government relaxes restrictions on charging for meals to allow schools to offer cut-price deals to woo their pupils back from takeaways.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Reach Volunteering: Would you like to volunteer your expertise as Chair of Governors for Livability?

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses are reimbursable: Reach Volunteering...

Ashdown Group: Payroll Administrator - Buckinghamshire - £25,000

£20000 - £25000 per annum + substantial benefits: Ashdown Group: Finance Admin...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine