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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.


Some academies ignoring healthy food guidelines, report says

Some academies ignoring healthy food guidelines, report says


Denis Campbell

guardian.co.uk, Monday 14 May 2012 14.35 EDT

Dunraven school in south London has signed up to the nutritional standards for its school meals

Dunraven school in south London has voluntarily signed up to the national nutritional standards for its school meals. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

When Michael Gove wrote to Jamie Oliver last August in response to the chef’s concerns about the coalition’s school food policies, he could not have been more soothing. He noted – but discounted – Oliver’s fear about academies not having to follow the nutritional standards that have applied in maintainedschools since 2008-09. “I would like to reassure you that we have no reason to believe that academies will not provide healthy, balanced meals that meet the current nutritional standards. As part of the broader freedoms available to academies, I trust the professionals to act in the best interests of their pupils,” the education secretary said. So he was clear – there was no problem.

Nine months later, though, Gove’s reassurance has been contradicted by the first hard evidence about whether the growing number of academies are applying the school food rules that Labour introduced after the row over Oliver’s 2005 TV series “Jamie’s School Dinners”, which exposed the poor quality of school food experienced by many pupils. They obliged maintained schools to offer only healthy, nutritious fare and banned snacks such as sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks from school tuckshops and vending machines.

New research by the School Food Trust (SFT) among 100 academies shows that while many of them follow the guidelines, many do not. They do not have to – Gove exempted academies from Labour’s insistence that all schools apply them – but the secretary of state has insisted until now that they all were doing so anyway. Despite having the freedom not to comply, almost none was using it, he suggested.

As recently as 24 April Gove, in evidence to the Education Select Committee at Westminster, pooh-poohed the idea that any academies might not be implementing a policy that has wide support, been proven to boost learning and helps to improve pupils’ health.“It has been claimed, but I have not seen, and I would be interested in, any evidence that any academy has introduced, as a result of those freedoms, lower-quality food. 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 offerchildren. There are bound to be cases that people have heard about where they fear that might not be the case, but I have not seen any cross my desk,” he told the MPs.

When Labour MP Alex Cunningham told Gove that “some of our children … are being let down”, by being at academies that do not apply the standards, Gove replied: “You assert that they are being let down; I fear that they may be. But I do not have any evidence that they have been. I am not denying that it is a possibility, but … until I know, I cannot see.”

Happily for evidence-hungry Gove, evidence now exists. Unfortunately it bears out the concerns of Oliver, doctors, teachers’ leaders, school caterers and children’s health campaigners that some academies are exploiting the freedom Gove gave them and not doing their best by their pupils’ health by ensuring that their school serves only healthy fare.

“The evidence shows that academies are, on average, doing less well in providing healthy food than other secondary schools in which standards are compulsory”, says Dr Michael Nelson, the School Food Trust’s director of research and nutrition. He is the expert who supervised the survey and also a reader in public health nutrition at King’s College London.

Out of 99 academies that told researchers what foods they served or sold, 89 were selling at least one type of unhealthy food that is banned in maintained schools. Confectionery and chocolate were being sold in 16, crisps and savoury snacks in 26, and cereal bars– which contain 20%-40% sugar – in 54. In addition, 82 sold fruit juice drinks and squash, including drinks such as Robinson’s Fruit Shoot, Drench and Capri-Sun. “They have as little as 7% or 10% of fruit juice in them, whereas the school food standards say that such drinks sold in maintained schools have to be at least 50% fruit juice”, says Nelson.

More reassuringly, though, just six sold fizzy drinks such as Coke and Sprite and only two let pupils buy energy drinks such as Lucozade and Red Bull, despite their popularity.

Academies’ attitudes to the standards proved revealing. Ten per cent said they were either unwilling or unable to follow them, or certainly not across the entire school day. One in three either said that the standards were too restrictive or needed to contain an element of flexibility. A third also saw the regulations as “a burden” while, worryingly, 18 agreed that school catering is“mainly a commercial service to provide food and drink at school”.

Those concerned at Gove’s failure to maintain Labour’s consistent policy are worried. “For the first time, we have solid evidence from the academies themselves that nutritional standards are in real danger,” says Jamie Oliver.

“These standards are there for a reason – to help prevent England from sliding further behind when it comes to essential action to fight child obesity and diet-related disease. Mr Gove is putting our children’s future health at risk.”

Alasdair Smith, national secretary of the Anti-Academy Alliance (AAA), sees the findings as proof that many academies are putting profit before pupils’ health. “This report illustrates an unintended consequence of deregulating and privatising our schools. The secretary of state boasts that academies are about giving freedom and autonomy to schools. It is hard to imagine any parents supporting the ‘freedom’ to feed their child junk food.”

Professor Terence Stephenson, who as president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is the voice of the UK’s children’s doctors, says he is “concerned that academy schools are allowed to ignore nutrition-based government standards. Mr Gove said he didn’t know of any evidence suggesting that schools were rowing back on the nutritional standards. Now that he has it, let’s hope he acts on it and tells headteachers their academies shouldn’t be profiting from feeding their children unhealthy food.”

Like Oliver and the SFT, he wants Gove to force academies to apply the standards. “If we don’t act now, there will be thousands of children across the country eating unhealthy food at school, nutritional standards will plummet and we’ll be fuelling what is already an obesity crisis amongst our young,” he warns.

Why are some academies ignoring the standards? They cite money, pressure from pupils, parents or staff and a belief that the service would be “better” for not following the maintained schools model. The SFT found that about half the academies thought their catering services would break even, but about 25% expected a loss. Tellingly, 22 of the 76 converter academies they studied and three of the 24 sponsor-led ones – 25 schools in all –thought they would make a profit or surplus. Of these, 75% of the converters but only one of the three sponsor-led academies said the surplus would be reinvested in their catering service.

Gove also insists that some academies serve such good food that they exceed the standards. “Any good teacher or indeed parent would tell you that a child who is badly fed cannot concentrate and cannot learn”, says Dr Dan Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation, which runs 13 academies. Those 13 “not only comply with the minimum standards, but also subsidise meals so that they go beyond this”.

Similarly, the 11 academies in London, Birmingham and Portsmouth run by ARK Schools generally follow the guidelines. “That’s our intention, though the odd flapjack has crept in and the odd packet of crisps has been found by our auditors,” says spokeswoman Lesley Smith. “I’m slightly at a loss to know why you wouldn’t use these guidelines, because if you want children to do well in school, you want to ensure they are properly nourished.”

E-ACT, however, could not confirm if its 19 academies apply the standards because its headteachers have discretion on that.

Secondary school pupils ‘not eating enough’

Secondary school pupils ‘not eating enough’

BBC |April 28, 2012

By Hannah Richardson BBC News education reporter

Secondary school pupils are not eating enough at lunchtime according to a study by the body overseeing school food.

School Food Trust research suggests pupils get a quarter of the recommended daily intake from lunch, rather than the third that is advised.

A trust spokeswoman said it could be because pupils just chose a salad or a dessert rather than a full meal.

But there is evidence of significant improvements in school nutrition.

‘Fuel up’

The School Food Trust report said: “The secondary school environment is more complex than primary, and the style of food service makes it more challenging to ensure that pupils are making healthy choices whilst catering for their needs at lunchtime.”

The trust added in a statement: “The research shows that schools still need to do even more to encourage teenagers to fuel up well for their afternoon lessons.

“Despite huge improvements to what’s on the menu, teenagers are still not choosing food combinations that will give them enough energy and nutrients to stay alert all afternoon.”

It added that while the number of pupils eating fruit and vegetables every day had doubled since guidelines came into force, it still needed to go much further.

The report compared the eating habits of almost 12,000 pupils in 80 schools in England in 2011 with a smaller group of about 6,000 pupils in 2004.

‘Sweets and crisps’

It found significant improvements in the nutritional value of meals offered by secondary schools and healthier choices made by pupils.

For example, in 2004 43% of pupils had chips with their lunch compared to just 7% in 2011.

And almost all schools have ditched the sale of chocolate, sweets and crisps.

Nutritional guidelines for school food were introduced in 2005 after a campaign by the TV chef Jamie Oliver exposed how unhealthy food was in some places. These were then strengthened and full guidelines came into force in 2009.

Senior nutritionist, Jo Nicholas, who led the research for the trust said: “These findings show that even just 12 to 18 months after the final standards came into effect, as many secondary schools were getting to grips with the changes, the legislation was already making a significant impact – not just for what was on the menu but also for what teenagers were actually eating.

“Instead of ‘chips with everything’ we’re starting to see signs of ‘chips now and again’,” she added.

Can Jamie Oliver’s school meals revolution survive the Michael Gove recipe?

Can Jamie Oliver’s school meals revolution survive the Michael Gove recipe?

The Guardian World News

Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver said: ‘I just wish Mr Gove and the government would wake up and support these positive results by reinstating the perfectly good, cash-neutral, nutritional standards they’ve callously stripped away.’ Photograph: Peter Dench

Pupils are ditching chips, hamburgers and sweets for soup, sandwiches and fruit juice at lunchtime in the wake of the school food revolution begun by Jamie Oliver, a new study reveals. But the chef warned that this “huge progress” was at risk from the government’s “short-sighted and dangerous” decision to exempt academies and free schools from the rules that have compelled other schools to improve the food they offer to students.

The report by the Children’s Food Trust (CFT) shows the proportion of teenagers having chips at lunchtime has dropped from 43% to just 7% between 2004 and 2011, while those consuming starchy foods cooked in fat or oil, such as garlic bread or yorkshire pudding, is down from 50% to 17%. The number of schools offering pizza every day has fallen from 66% to 50%.

At the same time the number of pupils eating sandwiches has risen from 13% to 29%. Those having vegetables and salad has doubled, albeit only to 12%, while 98% of schools now have both foods on their menu four or five days a week – up from 60%. Two-thirds fewer pupils now opt for sweet treats such as cakes and biscuits.

And today’s average school lunch is more nutritious than in 2004, containing a third less salt, sugar, total fat and saturated fat, and 50% more vitamin A.

Oliver hailed the “really important research” as proof of the dramatic changes since his series. “This research shows that kids in secondary schools are smart when it comes to food choices – we knew that, but also it shows the huge progress that schools have been making across the country,” the chef told the Guardian.

He also renewed his attack on the education secretary,Michael Gove, for not insisting that academies must serve the same healthy fare as maintained schools. The rapid growth in academies – just overhalf of England’s 3,261 secondaries are or aim to become one – has sparked fears among doctors, campaigners and caterers that fewer pupils will be sure to receive healthy food.

“I just wish Mr Gove and the government would wake up and support these positive results by reinstating the perfectly good, cash-neutral, nutritional standards they’ve callously stripped away, that were there to protect our children.

“As more and more schools get academy status, it’s more vital than ever that the law is changed immediately to bring academies in line with the nutritional standards for maintained schools. To simply trust busy, financially strapped headteachers to make school food a priority is short-sighted and dangerous,” Oliver said.

Judy Hargadon, the CFT’s chief executive, said: “This report debunks the myth that children don’t like healthy food. There were cynics who said pupils wouldn’t eat school food after the standards came in. But children are perfectly happy to do so. We’re seeing a significant change in their eating habits. We’ve gone quite a long way on the school food journey but there’s still a way to go.”

But the cafeteria-style service offered at lunchtime by many secondary schools, in which pupils can choose whatever they like, makes it harder to ensure they eat a balanced meal, said Hargadon. She wants more secondaries to do the same as primaries and offer pupils a main course and a dessert, albeit still with some choice of dish. And schools that have moved their lunch-hour back to 1pm or 1.30pm should rethink, she added, as that meant many pupils ate a lot at the morning break and were no longer hungry by the time they were offered nutritious food at lunchtime.

The CFT was set up in 2005 by the then Labour government as theSchool Food Trust to overhaul meals after the Jamie’s School Dinners series on Channel 4 exposed how unhealthy many of them were.

Embarrassed by the “Turkey Twizzlers” row, Labour brought in minimum nutritional standards for school meals in England from 2008, and stopped schools selling confectionery and canned drinks.

However, packed lunches – more pupils still bring one in than eat school food – remain a problem, separate CFT research found. Some 69% contain “non-permitted foods” schools can no longer offer, such as crisps; 37% include a fizzy drink, and 26% confectionery, cakes or biscuits. But three times as many pupils having a packed lunch eat fruit (34%) than do those who have a school lunch (11%).

The fact that healthy school meals are now the rule rather than the exception “will go a long way to helping stem the obesity crisis we are facing”, said Professor Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which represents children’s doctors. But other measures are needed, too, such as compulsory cooking lessons for pupils and limits on the number of fast-food outlets allowed to open near schools, he added.

The Queen Katherine school in Kendal, Cumbria, revamped its menus soon after Oliver’s series was broadcast. Alex Stewart, a 17-year-old pupil, recalls the switch from chips, hamburgers and crisps to healthier food from his first year in 2005. “They now serve things like lasagne, shepherd’s pie and even sausage, mash and beans, and jacket potatoes, baguettes and sandwiches are available every day, as is fruit, yogurt and fruit-flavoured rather than sugary drinks,” he said. “It’s opened people’s minds.”

Pupils now eat a wider variety of foods and a healthier, more balanced diet, he said. “One or two still want a burger and chips, and some sixth-formers still buy hot sausages or chicken bites from a nearby supermarket, but most actually like the food.” At breaktime the school’s 1,420 pupils can buy crumpets, cheese on toast or coffee from its tuckshops, which used to sell sweets and crisps.

Lynda Mitchell, national chair of the Local Authority Caterers Association, said everyone who had implemented the new system had helped overcome “huge challenges” including “the initial resistance of teenagers to healthier eating”.After an initial fall in uptake nationally, three year-on-year rises mean 44.1% of primary pupils and 37.6% of secondary ones now have a school dinner (take-up across all schools was 44.9% in 2004). Ministers should see the CFT’s study as evidence that “we are turning the corner in secondary schools and that mandatory nutritional standards are beginning to pay off”, Mitchell added.

The Department for Education welcomed what a spokesman called “a lasting culture change in attitudes” since Oliver’s exposé.“Heads know that failing to invest in good, nutritious food is a false economy and parents won’t tolerate reconstituted turkey being put back on the menu.”

He rejected Oliver’s fears about academies. “The tough nutrition standards remain in place in maintained schools and set a clear benchmark for the rest. Catering is outstanding in many of the longest established academies. We see no reason that they will all not be serving high-quality food to pupils that meet the standards,” he added.

On the menu in 2004

Main courses

• Turkey Twizzlers

• Sausages and chips

• Hot dog and chips

• Sausage roll and chips

• Hamburger and chips

• Battered fish and chips

• Pizza with ham, cheese and tomato


• Selection of tray bakes eg chocolate rice crispies, flapjacks

• Iced buns

On the menu in 2011

Main courses

• Mediterranean braised lamb with couscous

• Roasted vegetable stack

• Cauliflower cheese bake

• Mushroom stroganoff

• Pork and apple casserole and mashed potatoes

• Quorn burger with chilli jam

• Country-style vegetable tart


• Yoghurt

• Fresh fruit

Source: Local Authority Caterers Association

Ban packed lunches, says Katie Price’s ex Alex Reid

Ban packed lunches, says Katie Price’s ex Alex Reid

BBC |April 25, 2012

Reality TV star and former cage fighter Alex Reid has called for a ban on school packed lunches in a speech in Parliament.

Mr Reid, ex-husband of celebrity Katie Price, said he wanted supermarkets, banks and big business to fund free, healthy school meals for all children.

He said pupils were eating chocolate and crisps which were“affecting their ability to concentrate in lessons”.

Mr Reid was speaking to the All-Party Group on School Food.

Mr Reid and Ms Price, the writer, TV reality show star and model also known as Jordan, divorced last month and he is now engaged to former Big Brother contestant Chantelle Houghton.

He won Channel 4’s Celebrity Big Brother in 2010.

‘Compulsory’Mr Reid told MPs about plans to raise £1 billion by offering companies promotional opportunities, including direct marketing to parents, in return for investment in a scheme called Let’s Do Lunch.

He said his proposal would remove the financial burden of providing school meals from the taxpayer.

“The important thing is the Let’s Do Lunch marketing would help companies investing in the scheme to generate more revenues,” he said.

“I want to make healthy school meals available to all kids.

“We will essentially make them compulsory and ban packed lunches.”

In 2010, the government shelved a scheme devised under Labour to widen entitlement to free meals to 500,000 more low income families.

Labour MP and shadow education minister Sharon Hodgson, who is a member of the all-party group, said there were fears that more children could lose entitlement to free lunches under the forthcoming Universal Credit system.

“We now have to look at other ways of achieving those ambitions. The project that Alex is working on could go some way towards that,” she told the Sunderland Echo this week.

Should Packed Lunches Be Banned?

Ban packed lunches, says Katie Price’s ex Alex Reid

On 25th April 2012 Alex Reid, former husband of Katie Price, called for a ban on packed lunches in schools. In a speech before the All-Party Group on School Food he advocated compulsory free, healthy school meals for all children. His concerns are, that by eating chocolate and crisps children are:

“affecting their ability to concentrate in lessons”.

He has proposed that the school meals scheme be funded at a cost of £1 billion by raising money from companies through a scheme called Let’s Do Lunch. This would involve private firms being given the opportunity to invest in the scheme in return for promotional opportunities including direct marketing to parents. He said his proposal would remove the financial burden of providing school meals from the taxpayer and that:

“The important thing is the Let’s Do Lunch marketing would help companies investing in the scheme to generate more revenues. I want to make healthy school meals available to all kids. We will essentially make them compulsory and ban packed lunches.”

The idea was backed by Labour’s shadow education minister for children and families Sharon Hodgson who expressed her fears that under the Universal Credit system more children could lose their entitlement to free school meals. This is in light of the government scrapping a Labour devised scheme in 2010 that would have widened entitlement to free meals to 500,000 more low-income families. She said that:

“We now have to look at other ways of achieving those ambitions. The project that Alex is working on could go some way towards that.”

Should Packed Lunches Be Banned?

In a word No! This is not to say that Alex Reid’s aspiration of seeing every school child receive healthy school meals is not to be applauded. But our concern is the way in which he is attempting to see this fulfilled. The first problem that we perceive is the fact that Mr Reid’s main motivation appears to be the increase in revenues for the companies that invest in the scheme. The primary driving force behind any school meals scheme should be increasing the health and well-being of our children and it must be non-profit making.

Secondly, we would worry about the idea of participating companies being afforded promotional opportunities and direct marketing openings to parents. When we first opened Kip McGrath Education Centre Scunthorpe we contacted all the primary schools in the area to discuss what we did and how we could support their hard work with their pupils. We also asked if they could distribute our flyers in pupils’ book bags. Some schools were happy to allow this but a number stated that their policy meant they couldn’t be seen to recommend a particular business. We accepted each school’s choice on this matter. This suggests that schools are, on the whole, uncomfortable with private companies directly marketing through book bags and newsletters and so on. If they were unhappy at providing information about fellow education providers then we cannot imagine that they would wish to be used as a source of promotion for unrelated profit-making enterprises. If schools wish to recommend an organisation because it shares their values and/or they believe that its products or services would be of value to their families they should be at liberty to do so but this must be on a voluntary basis and not compulsory.

Finally, we feel that to arbitrarily ban packed lunches from schools regardless of how healthy they are is playing nanny state and will only cause resentment. Additionally, it serves no purpose in teaching children and families about healthy eating because you are simply spoon-feeding them healthy food without educating them about the variety of factors involved in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

What Are The Alternatives?

The scheme does have merits but needs some rethinking on how it would work.

  • There should be no direct marketing involved. No participating company should be allowed to profit directly from helping our children to become healthier and fitter. The firms concerned could simply have their name linked to the Let’s Do Lunch logo on school publications and displayed in limited but appropriate locations around the school. In addition, rather than using large multi-million pound corporations it might be possible to set up local Let’s Do Lunch schemes that would involve smaller businesses who wish to support their local schools. This would mean that a wide variety of local businesses would gain equal PR and that no business could profit or gain unfair advantage in their particular market place. It would also establish positive links between schools and the local business community.
  • Under no circumstances should this scheme be compulsory for parents. The merits of free, healthy school meals should be promoted to families and they can decide for themselves whether to participate or not. Encouragement for families to lead healthier lifestyles should come through education, not least the great healthy eating lessons that already take place up and down the country and the support of the School Food Trust. As a result parents can be taught and supported and this will increase the prospects of more children receiving healthy meals at home as well as in school.
  • Finally, the money saved from providing school meals should be ring-fenced for building new schools or expanding existing ones to help alleviate the growing crisis of shortages in primary school places.

Any schemes that attempt to encourage our children to live healthy lifestyles are to be praised but they should be carefully thought out with regard to both motivation and outcome and Let’s Do Lunch should be given careful consideration with regard to these criteria.

Jamie Oliver in blistering attack on Michael Gove over poor school diet

Jamie Oliver in blistering attack on Michael Gove over poor school diet

The Guardian World News |by Toby Helm

Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver: ‘The public health of five million children should not be left to luck or chance.’ Photograph: Newspix/Rex Features

Jamie Oliver has made a blistering attack on Michael Gove over school food, claiming that some of the education secretary’s flagship academies are lowering nutrition levels among pupils and profiteering from junk food vending machines because they have been allowed to ignore national standards.

The TV chef and food campaigner says the substantial progress made over recent years in improving pupils’ diets risks going into reverse because Gove is allowing new waves of academy schools to ignore nutrient-based standards introduced by the last government in 2008.

“I have got nothing against him personally. He is a charming and energetic man,” says Oliver, in an interview for today’sObserver Food Monthly. “But the health of millions of children could be affected by this one man.

“When there is a national obesity crisis unfolding around us, I honestly think he is playing with fire.”

Oliver, who has campaigned for a decade to raise nutrition levels in school food, says he is “totally mystified” as to why headteachers of academies – schools freed from local authority control – are being allowed to determine what food should be on offer, while heads of maintained schools have to abide by the national standards.

“This mantra that we are not going to tell [academy] schools what to do just isn’t good enough in the midst of the biggest obesity epidemic ever,” says Oliver. “The public health of 5 million children should not be left to luck or chance.”

He adds: “We all love headteachers and think they do brilliant work, like nurses and doctors. But they have not been trained to run the biggest restaurant in town, serving 800 meals in one single sitting. They need some expertise and some guidance. It is there. It exists. Why not make it apply to all schools?”

Oliver says that some academies are buying in food that would fail the nutrition tests that maintained schools have to meet. Others are making money from vending machines packed with sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks. Under the national rules, which are applied to other state schools, vending machines can only sell healthy snacks such as fruit, nuts and bottles of water.

Oliver says that large food suppliers have got used to delivering meals to schools that meet the national standards. But now, as the number of academies has increased, they will be less rigorous and cut corners to maximise profits.

Pressure on Gove has also mounted since the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith tabled a Commons motion praising Oliver’s campaigning and calling on the secretary of state to amend the regulations “to require academies and free schools to adhere to the standards for school food so that the one million children now attending these schools can benefit from this commitment to their health and wellbeing”. The motion has been signed by 54 MPs.

While praising Oliver for the work he has done, Gove insists that academies should not be covered by the national rules because their headteachers can be trusted to deliver the best for their pupils. Last night Lynda Mitchell, the national chair of the of the Local Authority Caterers Association, said she had been told of cases where academies were lowering standards and of cases where vending machines with sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks were being introduced. “It is very worrying. We have clear evidence of this happening,” she said, adding that vending machines could be moneyspinners for schools, bringing in profits of £14,000 a year each – enough to pay for a teaching assistant.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said Gove had written to Oliver last year pointing out that “some of the best schools in terms of attitudes to food and meals were academies”.Gove also said he had asked the School Food Trust to carry out a survey of food standards in new academies last autumn. It will be published in due course. The spokesman said: “We trust schools to act in the best interests of their pupils. There’s been a lasting culture change in attitudes since Jamie’s School Dinners. Heads know that failing to invest in good, nutritious food is a false economy and parents won’t tolerate reconstituted turkey being put back on the menu.”

In his interview, Oliver says he is fed up with hearing about the devolution of power to local level and wants instead to know that ministers are acting to deal with a national crisis. “We don’t want bullshit about the big society. We want a strategy to stop Britain being the fifth most unhealthy country in the world. The most unhealthy country in Europe. This is the first generation of kids not expected to live as long as their parents. Tell me, Mr Gove, Mr Lansley [the health secretary], how you plan to change that? Two out of five kids are obese. What is in your arsenal? The fact is, they are doing nothing,” he says.

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