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The council that bit off more than it could chew: girl's school dinner blog back by popular demand


A council that banned a nine-year-old girl from taking pictures of her school dinners was forced into a U-turn today after an outcry on Twitter.

Martha Payne, a primary school pupil from Lochgilphead, Argyll, runs a blog, NeverSeconds, documenting the contents of her canteen lunches, even assessing the number of hairs in each meal.

While her reviews are generally positive, photographs of some unhealthy dishes generated media attention, following television chef Jamie Oliver’s high-profile campaign to improve the quality of school dinners.

But a Daily Record headline stating that it was “Time to fire the school dinner ladies” left staff “in tears” and feeling “palpable” levels of distress, prompting Argyll and Bute Council to act.

On Thursday, a note titled “goodbye” appeared on Martha’s blog. “This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my headteacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today,” she wrote in the post beneath.

News of the ban led to outrage on Twitter. John Prescott told the council: “Stopping a talented 9-year-old's freedom of expression is a really bad idea. Let her blog!”, while Jamie Oliver told Martha to “stay strong”.

Ian Rankin, the author, tweeted: “I spent today trying to enthuse school pupils about creativity and the written word. So thanks a lot.”

The council defended its ban with a bullish statement condemning “unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service” and accusing Martha and her father of “misrepresenting the options and choices available to pupils”.

Appalled by the unfolding PR disaster, MSP Michael Russell, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education, called the decision “daft” and said he would contact the council’s chief executive.

Hours later, council leader Roddie McCuish appeared on Radio 4's The World at One to announce the blogging ban had been lifted.

“It's a good thing to do, to change your mind, and I've certainly done that,” he said.

Not only has the fuss resulted in Martha being allowed to blog again, but donations to her Just Giving charity account have soared.

On Thursday, she had accumulated £2,000– £5,000 short of the total needed to build kitchen for schoolchildren in Malawi.

As of tonight, Martha had £35,000.

A spokeswoman for Mary's Meals said that not only was it enough to provide a kitchen with Martha’s name on, but also to build further kitchens and feed almost 2,000 children for an entire year.

Martha Payne is raising money for Mary's Meals on JustGiving