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Jamie Oliver urges MPs to stop academies selling junk food

Jamie Oliver urges MPs to stop academies selling junk food

guardian.co.uk |by Toby Helm

Jamie Oliver, casual pose, in hoodie

Chef and school food campaigner Jamie Oliver. Photograph: Ken McKay/Rex Features

An exasperated Jamie Oliver has written to every MP demanding a U-turn over nutrition rules in schools after education secretary Michael Gove refused to act on a report that found nine out of 10 academies were selling junk food.

Announcing the move on his website, the TV chef, whose campaign for better food in state schools has lifted standards for millions of pupils, told voters that if their MPs did not act “you can safely assume that they don’t care about the wellbeing of our children and the future of our country”.

Oliver’s move came as public health officials and doctors joined a growing number of education and food organisations in criticising the education secretary. In a move that astonished experts, Gove insisted that he would not apply the nutrition standards that cover all other state schools to academies and free schools – even after a report by the School Food Trust charity found last week that many were selling sub-standard products.

The investigations, initially requested by Gove, showed that 89 out of 100 academies surveyed were selling at least one of the snack foods high in sugar, salt or fat that have been banned in vending machines in other state schools.

Gove insists that academies, which enjoy greater freedom than other state schools, should be left to determine their own nutritional standards because they are run by responsible head teachers.

However, of the 100 academies questioned by the trust, 31 were found to be selling one type of banned fattening food, 33 were selling two and 15 were selling three. Also 82 of the academies sold sweetened fruit juices, which often contain only a small amount of juice and would therefore be banned in maintained schools. The national school food standards stipulate that such products must contain at least 50% fruit juice.

The trust, which was called in after Oliver and others raised concerns last year, concluded that the nutritional standards introduced in 2008 under the Labour government should now cover academies and free schools.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said that despite the report there was no prospect of a change of policy. In a statement the department said: “We trust teachers – the professionals on the frontline – to do what is best for their pupils. Many academies go over and above the minimum requirements and are offering their pupils high-quality, nutritional food.”

However, Oliver, urging MPs to back a Commons early day motion from Tory MP Zac Goldsmith which says that academies should be covered by the rules, says in his letter that the government’s approach threatens a “massive erosion of everything we have achieved”.

“I passionately believe that this is taking a huge step in the wrong direction as far as taking care of our children and the future of this country is concerned,” Oliver writes. “His (Gove’s) decision means that the one million children attending academy schools no longer have any standards in place to protect the food they eat every day.

“I have written to all MPs asking them to sign Zac Goldsmith’s early day motion. If your MP does not support this motion, then you can safely assume that they don’t care about the wellbeing of our children and the future of our country.”

There are 1,283 secondary academies in England – 40% of the total of 3,261 secondary schools – and a further 10% have applied for academy status. Gove is pressing for still more to convert.

Dr Janet Atherton, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, which represents England’s 150 directors of public health in the NHS, said: “The standards were brought in because catering standards in schools weren’t as good as they needed to be. They have brought about dramatic improvements in children’s nutrition and eating habits.

“They have been proven to be effective. You can see that in children’s diets. Some academies are following the standards, but that’s not across the board.

“I’m concerned that evidence shows that academies aren’t doing what Mr Gove said should happen. It feels that it’s moving back to before the standards came in, with confectionery and soft drinks available in schools. The standards should apply in all schools.”

Rob Rees, chairman of the School Food Trust and a well-known chef, said: “We have clear evidence that shows standards work for schools when it comes to food and cooking. For the last three years the number of children eating lunches has increased and many children are enjoying the hard work of so many cooks across the country.

“I hope that all schools will value the evidence and realise the benefit good food brings to performance, behaviour and social cohesion.”

Last month Gove told the education select committee that he saw no evidence of academies failing to comply with the standards. He said: “All the evidence seems to me to point in the other direction: that schools that have academy freedoms have improved the quality of food they offered children.”

The Department of Health said it was a matter for Gove.


Schools aren’t fit for pupils to learn in, warn four in 10 headteachers

Schools aren’t fit for pupils to learn in, warn four in 10 headteachers

guardian.co.uk |by Jessica Shepherd

  • Jessica Shepherd
  • The Observer, Saturday 19 May 2012
Richard Lee primary in Coventry

Richard Lee primary in Coventry needs a new roof, and has damp and mould in classrooms. Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

England’s classrooms are in such poor condition that 39% of headteachers believe their school buildings are unfit for purpose, a survey exclusively conducted for the Observer shows.

The Key, a national education support service, questioned 667 heads and school business managers on the state of their buildings – 38 complained of dire overcrowding, with the Castle school in Taunton having to pack 1,236 pupils into a site designed for just 600.

Another 25 warned that their buildings were a health and safety hazard. The business manager of Collegiate high school in Blackpool said classroom windows had loose glass, the ceilings leaked and pupils were unable to drink the tap water in the toilets.

Terry Scott, headteacher of De Bohun primary in Southgate, north London, described it as looking like “a shelled building from some war-torn country”.

The survey’s findings come amid a burgeoning row at Westminster over the funding of the school estate. Within weeks of coming to power, the coalition scrapped a £55bn pledge by Tony Blair to rebuild or refurbish every state secondary school in England– the Building Schools for the Future programme. Ministers said the scheme had been wasteful and bureaucratic.

Last July, Michael Gove, the education secretary, announced that the programme would be replaced by a £2bn scheme to rebuild the most dilapidated schools – the Priority School Building Programme. The deadline for applications was mid-October and heads were told they would find out if their schools had been chosen in December.

But schools have still not been told – and the Department for Education has given no explanation for the delay.

Meanwhile, central government has stripped millions of pounds from local authority budgets to repair school buildings. One school business manager told The Key’s survey that her budget for building maintenance had dropped from £120,000 last year to just£17,000 this year, while a headteacher said his had dropped by 75%.

Delays and confusion over the funding of the school estate come in the middle of a baby boom which in itself is putting intense pressure on space in primary schools. The number of pupils starting school is projected to rise by more than half a million between 2010 and 2018.

Patrick Mercer, Conservative MP for Newark in Nottinghamshire, has attacked his own party for delaying decisions over which of the country’s schools are to be given funds for repairs. “Teachers, parents and pupils are extremely frustrated by the delays,” Mercer told the Observer.

The Grove school in his constituency, a specialist science college, has a water-logged roof and the toilet windows have to be left open permanently as the ventilation is so poor. “Pupils lose thousands of teaching hours because they are sent home when there is a faulty roof. I can only imagine this is being replicated elsewhere,” Mercer said.

The Key asked state school heads and business managers whether their buildings were fit for purpose – 260 responded that they weren’t. Some 49% of secondary schools said their buildings were not fit for purpose, as did 33% of those from primaries.

Nusrat Faizullah, chief executive of the British Council for School Environments, said many schools were in a worse state of repair than 10 years ago. “Some are in a terrible – and dangerous– condition,” she said. “Headteachers and local authorities had to prioritise where to direct resources for maintenance and repair, influenced in part by the promise of more money for school buildings under the previous government’s school building programmes. This meant some schools had urgent repair needs postponed because of an expectation that significant money for buildings was on the way, only for it to be cancelled.”

The Local Government Association has warned that at least 476 schools have applied for funding through the Priority School Building Programme. Only between 100 and 300 are likely to receive money.

A spokeswoman from the Department for Education said schools would hear shortly whether they would receive funds. “We are taking our time to get this right and will announce our decisions as soon as we can,” she said. Ministers were making £1.4bn available to address maintenance needs up to 2013 and were investing another£1.4bn this year to create more school places, she said.

Nick Clegg attacks the rift between state and private schools’ A-level results

Nick Clegg attacks the rift between state and private schools’ A-level results

guardian.co.uk |by Toby Helm

  • Toby Helm
  • The Observer, Saturday 19 May 2012
Multiple-choice exam questions

Private school pupils are three times as likely to get top grades at A level, a new report reveals. Photograph: David Davies/PA

Pupils at private schools are more than three times as likely to get AAB in the key A level subjects that help candidates gain access to top universities as those in state schools, according to the first analysis of its kind released by the government.

The figures have been made public by Nick Clegg as part of a new initiative to promote “social mobility” to be unveiled by the deputy prime minister on Tuesday. The government looked at those attaining AAB at A level in subjects identified by the Russell Group as “facilitating” entry to their universities –including English literature, maths, physics, languages and history.

Under a new social mobility “tracking” system, the relative numbers achieving these grades in private and state schools will be published annually, as will a series of other indicators including access to early years education and entry to the professions.

Clegg said there was a “great rift in our education system between our best schools, most of which are private, and the schools ordinary families rely on. That is corrosive for our society and damaging to our economy.”

He added: “We do need to ensure that our school system as a whole promotes fairness and mobility, that it heals the rift in opportunities. We are committed to narrowing the gap in our school system – state and private – and ensuring that all children are given the chance to rise. The way to do that is to make the state education system better – to level up –and ensure that anyone can get ahead.”

In an article in today’s Observer ahead of an international summit on social mobility being hosted by the Sutton Trust, its chairman Sir Peter Lampl says “education reform still holds the key to breaking the cycle of low mobility”.

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