Ladies who do lunch get a qualification so they can raise tone of school dinners

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The Independent Online

Labour's campaign on school dinners is heading for parody this weekend as Ruth Kelly launches the creation of elite squad of dinner ladies.

Labour's campaign on school dinners is heading for parody this weekend as Ruth Kelly launches the creation of elite squad of dinner ladies.

The Education Secretary will hymn the praises of "unsung heroines" in a speech to their union on Wednesday.

Even as she says they have been "taken for granted for too long" she will unveil a new qualification for the ladle-wielding matrons of the lunchtime queue. A quango, the Learning and Skills Council, is to oversee a new national qualification in school catering, according to advance briefing on the speech.

Ms Kelly is to say: "The new vocational qualification will ensure that everyone in the school kitchen aspires to the same high standards."

Around 15,000 are expected to study for the new qualification, Ms Kelly will say.

Ministers were criticised for hi-jacking Jamie Oliver's campaign to improve the quality of school meals during the election campaign. Labour made much of its pledge to spend an additional £220m a year on food in schools.

They had been stung by the revelation that, on average, only 45p per child is spent on primary school lunches, leaving pupils reliant on heavily processed menus.

In theory, the money raises the minimum cost to 50p per meal in primary schools and 60p in secondary schools. But experts fear the money may still go on processed food.

Ministers also set up a national advisory group on nutritional standards, the School Meals Review Panel.

The initiative has faced fire from the start, when its members complained its meetings were a waste of time - as they are agreed in demanding new nutritional standards immediately.

It also emerged that many primary schools are locked into long-term deals with big contractors, which mean they cannot adopt Jamie Oliver's fresh-food approach to catering, even if they want to.

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