Education Quandary

Jamie Oliver says that if 20,000 people wrote to the Education Secretary to protest about lousy school dinners, things would change. Would they? And will we?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Hilary's advice

There's no evidence that public opinion would have any impact on a Government that seems to listen only to its spin doctors. But it would be nice to think that it could, just as it would be nice to think that having a mother as Education Secretary might make a difference as well. Ruth Kelly presumably doesn't want her children to eat the muck - as Jamie Oliver puts it - that makes up so many school dinners, and since she obviously doesn't have time to cut up carrot sticks for nutritious lunch boxes, she just might feel moved to do something effective.

We have known for decades that a fatty, salty, sugary diet causes serious health problems. We have known, too, that a good diet curbs violent and impulsive behaviour - repeated studies of prisoners and young offenders have shown this. At the same time we have sat back and watched health problems like obesity and diabetes climb among children, while the number of restless, aggressive and inattentive pupils goes through the roof.

Could there be a link between the two? Yes, there just might be. But still we do nothing. Our children carry on eating processed slurry and fat-soaked potatoes and we carrying on smiling and shrugging and saying: "Oh, children; what can you do?" Well you can do something. You can write to Ruth Kelly. And, parents, you can roll up your sleeves and change what's done in your children's schools - see Page 4.

This is one of those rare educational issues where the problem is clear, and the solution plain. It is shaming that we need Jamie Oliver to show the way. Let's support him. Write those letters.

Readers' advice

The "muck" started when school meals were farmed out to private contractors. As head cook at a comprehensive school in the 1950s I had to devise the menus following strict nutritional guidelines. Children had a choice of three hot meals and a salad, chips were only allowed once a week and everything was made in the kitchens. Of 400 pupils, only about a dozen brought sandwiches to school, so we must have got something right. Maybe we should learn from this?
Ann Simpkins, Gloucestershire

Contrast our situation with that in France or Italy, where children sit down at school to the sort of food their parents would be happy to prepare and eat. Then note the difference in the behaviour of British children abroad to their European contemporaries. Our children graze on junk food by the pool, choose unhealthy options at meal-times, mistrust the unfamiliar and refuse to try the novel.
Sharman Finlay, Belfast

Healthy food is on offer in some schools, but the real success is getting children to choose it. If they were taught how to cook at a young age, they would make healthier choices and we would alleviate some public health problems. I run cookery workshops at out-of-school care clubs.We cook, using simple ingredients and the children learn how to taste wholesome food. We need to ensure that our children are as familiar with the potato-peeler as they are with the scissors they use to open convenience foods. Ruth Kelly might consider allowing primary school children to help cook their own lunches once in a while, with a bit of maths (budgeting) thrown in too!
Fi Bird, Angus, Scotland

Next week's quandary

My 11-year-old daughter has just been diagnosed as dyspraxic but faces a long wait to see a therapist, and her teachers don't seem to take her problems seriously. I don't want her teenage years to be a long struggle with school. How can I help build her confidence? Will she ever reach her full potential? And shouldn't this have been spotted sooner?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 7 March, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser