Jamie Oliver criticises Gove for allowing Academies to serve unhealthy food

Allan Beavis's picture
Two weeks ago I had lunch in my local maintained school. The food was very good, excellent even, when you consider that the kitchen prepared hundreds of covers every day, including hot food, salads, sandwiches, wraps and vegetarian options. The queues were a bit long perhaps, the children a little unruly and desperate to quickly eat and get out to enjoy the sunshine and play. But it was heartening to sit amongst a roomful of schoolchildren noisily and energetically sharing food and conversation. Natural and social behaviour, with no risk of being flung into detention or threatened with exclusion for touching or communicating with a fellow human being.

The costs of running the kitchen are high and the school’s café is struggling to break even, despite the high quality and nutritional value of the food. I was reminded that maintained schools are bound by regulations – so junk food and chips on the menu every day are not permitted. A good thing, considering that obesity is a health problem and a drain on the NHS. A good thing also because for many children on Free School Meals, school lunch may well be the most balanced plate of food they will get that day. All in all, it makes sense that legislation enforces standards and promotes healthy eating in schools.

Except the present government is quite happy to throw the rules out of the window,so what applies to maintained schools is not applicable to Free Schools and Academies. In last Sunday’s Observer, Jamie Oliver expressed his dismay over Academies’ exemption from adhering to nutrition guidelines for school meals. Unregulated, they can ignore the health department’s warnings about child obesity and are perfectly within their rights to serve up crap food on a daily basis to the children in their care and Michael Gove is complicit in this. But then his free market ideology would applaud vending machine companies from making a profit and the Academy itself earning £14,000 from encouraging their children to eat crisps, fizzy drinks and sweets. He claims that he trusts Academies to act in the best interests of pupils but we should be trusting government ministers to dissuade children from eating unhealthy food, not rushing through legislation that removes safeguards.

It won’t be children from middle class families who will suffer most from junk school meals but those from poor families. The Jamie Oliver outburst is more than a story of a celebrity chef’s attack on Gove for threatening to undo the good work he started 10 years ago, because it is another twist on what is a depressingly consistent consequence of almost all of the policies of this Tory-dominated coalition. Policies rooted in free market ideology, designed to widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots, to reward the already privileged and punish the neediest whilst tipping more and more families over the edge into poverty.

The wholesale dismantling and selling off of public services to the private sector, the amputation of the National Health Service, the severing of social services, the cuts to pensions and tax benefits, an economic policy resulting in a double dip recession and zero growth, record unemployment (over 1m amongst 16-24 year olds, and counting) all hit the neediest the hardest. Massive tuition fees means that higher education is becoming out of reach for many less well off young people, satellite grammar schools will cater for more children whose parents have an income disposed towards private tuition, academies and free schools will play fast and loose with an admissions code they can vary in cahoots with the Secretary of State for Education to favour whomever they wish to admit, vulnerable but improving schools squeezed of investment and resources are brutally closed down despite facing serious challenges all because Gove whimsically raises floor targets in order to “prove” more failure, to be handed over to Academy chains, some of whose founders coincidentally donated millions to the Tory coffers.

Academies and Free Schools were promoted on the ticket that they would improve standards of education and raise attainment for the most deprived, but analysis of the DfE’s own data do not show that Academies outperform maintained schools, as Henry Stewart has demonstrated on this site. Worse, according to the Guardian, figures lodged in the House of Commons library by the Department for Education reveal that 18 of the 24 free schools that opened last autumn have taken a lower proportion of children eligible for free school meals than is average for schools with pupils of the same age group across their local authority.

It’s been a bad few months for Michael Gove. His hastily implemented school reforms have now taken root and pushed up more unattractive and PR-unfriendly weeds – The Guardian reported recently on a retreat on setting up Free Schools; a parent in Haringey is threatening a judicial review over Gove’s decision to remove the board of governors; Gove is currently forced to challenge a ruling by the information commissioner that he used a private email account for departmental business; and The Guardian again revealed that one of his favourite Academies – Durand – paid £152,812 to Political Lobbying and Media Relations Ltd (PLMR) – a London-based PR firm that boasts of its connections to politicians of all parties.

All these stories are consistent with what critics have been warning about for 18 months – lack of transparency, cronyism, the withdrawing of local accountability, centralised and authoritarian control, the threat of a decrease in the quality of education at the same time as an unprecedented increase in the profits of companies that now feed off schools.

What is interesting is that until about 6 months ago, the mainstream press, with the possible exception of one or two papers, was not critical or even particularly curious about countering the sustained spin from the government about the superiority (actual or just presumed) of Academies and Free Schools. Neither did they shine too bright a light on the failures of these same reforms in countries like Sweden and the United States. It was on the internet where the doubts, warning and criticisms flowed freely and with Cassandra-like precision. And like Cassandra, those who warned were routinely dismissed and even abused as scaremongers, idiots, Trots, cherry-pickers, enemies of promise. Their sin was to lift the lid on a hugely expensive experiment that had been implemented without transparency, proper consultation or agreement; been proven to be unsuccessful in other countries and which opened the doors wide open for profit-making companies to swell their coffers.

Alarmingly for Gove and his supporters in and out of government, as the Academy/Free School programme kicks in, the Cassandras are being proved right and the DfE are increasingly unable to stem the tide of criticism. The downsides of coalition Academies and Free Schools are now out in the open and the problems they cause are now absolutely attributable to the policy and the schools themselves and not to the scaremongers and lefties who prophecised them 18 months ago.

According to a new analysis by The Children’s Society, more than 350,000 children will lose their free school meals under the government's radical plans to reform welfare entitlement next year. It’s ghastly to ponder what is worse – no Free School Meal or Free School Turkey Twizzler.
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Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 08:47

I received a letter from Mr Gove via my MP about school food standards and academies. Mr Gove noted the School Food Trust's evidence that a balanced meal aids concentration, behaviour and learning. Despite this evidence, he said that academies set up from September 2010 need not comply with school food standards although he expected that they would "still want to promote healthy eating... through the provision of high quality lunch services".

A nutritious school meal should be a requirement not an expectation.

Mr Gove said that Academies set up before September 2010 were obliged under their Funding Agreements to adhere to food standards but they could "move to the new funding agreement if they wish to do so." In other words, even those academies bound by an earlier agreement to provide healthy meals can change this if they want to do so.

Mr Gove said the DfE had asked the Schools Food Trust to survey school food in a sample of academies and Sarah Teather, Minister of State for Children and Families, would be meeting Jamie Oliver to discuss school food. However, this does not address why academies were allowed to ignore school food standards in the first place. Neither does it answer the question about why academies bound by an agreement to provide healthy food have been given to option to tear it up.

Paul Reeve's picture
Tue, 15/05/2012 - 08:11

Here we go....

'The academies that sell the junk food are making between £3,000 and £15,000 a year from catering for their pupils having a sweet tooth, according to the SFT.'

from..... http://tinyurl.com/bwete8a

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 15/05/2012 - 09:38

And, according to the report, 9 out of 10 Academies are offering unhealthy food to their students. It seems that Gove's trust in Academies to offer nutritious food to their students is misplaced and so his reassurances that Academies can be trusted to get on with things without any accountability can be taken with a pinch of salt. What is appalling, of course, is that there is one rule for Academies and another for maintained schools. I think this is yet another example of how "autonomy" is detrimental to a school, a middle tier of accountability has to introduced, why legislation affecting schools should be applied equally across the board and why legislation has to tightly worded so that thedre is no doubt that all schools must comply with regulations that protect the education and the welfare of children in all schools.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 10:18

Why do you think schools need to be bossed about and bound by regulation to provide healthy food?

I provide healthy food in my home to our children without having any Government Inspector in my kitchen. I would expect any school to do likewise.

It's also a sensible idea to ban the use of mobile phones in classrooms. Otherwise, students will be tempted to text their friends instead of staying on task.

But I don't expect the government to draft Orders in Council or SIs on the subject.

Sarah's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 11:17

There is a very strong financial driver to reduce the cost of school meals - when schools are under financial pressure they sometimes take decisions about reducing the cost of contracts without necessarily understanding the full impact of them. With proper guidance in place they are less likely to be able to reduce standards simply to save money. If schools were able to regulate this for themselves we wouldn't have had the whole 'turkey twizzler' situation which cropped up when school meals were competetively tendered in the 1980's. That's where the guidance originated from and the reason why it would be better for children if it were retained for all schools.

And why on earth should one type of schools have a different set of constraints than another - do children attending Academies have different needs or should there be consistency?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 29/04/2012 - 07:25

Ricky I'm curious as to your politics because you have such an insight into Gove's thinking which I am at a complete loss to grasp.

From you comments I have noticed that you seem to prefer getting rid of all central organisation and running without any.
You also want to get rid of all LAs and academics of education and people who have studied management.

Would it be fair to say that your stance is could reasonably be described as 'anarchic libertarianism'? as opposed to say any of the other forms of libertarianism described in paragraph 3?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 30/04/2012 - 18:05

What do you think Gove's politics are Ricky? I've joined the Lib Dems because they fundamentally believe in devolving power to the lowest level which is practical but setting up transparent and accountable systems of central administration where it clearly makes sense to do so. So at least when I diagree with them we can have a coherent debate based on agreed principles.

Gove seems to be into anarachic libertarianism as far as I can tell. Why would he think this is a sensible philosophy? You've referred to him as being 'wise' but to me anarchic libertarianism is just vandalism. To me 'wise' people are people who can take most other people in their stride and manage their inadequacies effectively. Gove seems to be unable to do this at all and instead seems to actively negatively label people to avoid engaging with them.

Tim Bidie's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 12:01

It is entirely possible for less regulated schools to provide better quality services including school meals. We know this from positive results elsewhere in the world in schools largely left to govern themselves..

The default position of the Department of Education should be to allow schools and school boards of governors to regulate themselves.

Inspection by commissioners or what have you, on a random basis, with powerful sanctions, should suffice to ensure standards are maintained.

Sarah's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 12:04

So what is your explanation for the appalling quality of school meals in the late 1980s and 1990s before the standards were introduced. If it's entirely possible, what prevented it from happening - and what's different now that would avoid a repetition?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 12:47

Tim - evidence, please, to the "positive results [re better quality services including meals] elsewhere in the world in schools largely left to govern themselves."

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 12:47


The explanation of the appalling quality of school meals in the 1980s etc. and the widespread provision of disgusting junk like turkey twizzlers was a result of the determination of progressive educationalists to promote and celebrate a proletarian culture in schools. Healthy foods like salad and pasta were deemed 'bourgeois' and 'not relevant' to the home lives of students. School meals were designed to mimic the TV dinners working class families were believed to enjoy by these patronizing leftist teachers. It was the same impulse that brought gangsta rap music into classrooms and promoted the use of Hello magazine as a suitable text for KS3 English comprehension.

This kind of inverted snobbery is still with us.

Today, the Sutton Trust has produced a report showing that less than half of state school teachers would advise their most able pupils to apply to Oxbridge.

Worse even than the social prejudice this enshrines is the total ignorance that fuels it.

A majority of teachers (55%) said they believed that state school pupils accounted for less than a third of Oxbridge places. (The true figures are 59.3% Cambridge/ 58.5% Oxford for 2011 admissions).

That so many chippy (pun intended), ideologically motivated ignoramuses are allowed to continue teaching our children is a national scandal.


Tim Bidie's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 14:50

Another 2 minutes out of my life:

'As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. "There's no word for accountability in Finnish," he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. "Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted."



Tim Bidie's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 15:45

Another 2 minutes out of my life:
‘As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish,” he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”

Tim Bidie's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 16:46

Another 1 minute out of my life:
‘As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish,” he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 13:13

Ricky - I'm sorry, you'll have to excuse any typos in this post (I've already had to correct "Ticky") but I'm having difficulty seeing the screen through tears of laughter. Your post is a wonderful send-up of the stereotypical accusations levelled at 1980's "patronising leftist teachers". I particularly enjoyed the assertion that "the widespread provision of disgusting junk like turkey twizzlers was a result of the determination of progressive educationalists to promote and celebrate a proletarian culture in schools."

I must admit I admired the linking of school meals - via "inverted snobbery" - to teachers not recommending Oxbridge. However, I felt "chippy" was a little obvious - chips, crisps, carpenters, resentful, touchy, fast-food outlet....

The sentiments of your final sentence would make a wonderful tabloid headline. I can see it now, in four inch high font, thick black ink:

SCANDAL OF OUR SCHOOLS: children taught by ideologically motivated ignoramuses. It cannot be allowed to continue.

It would, of course, be followed by a picture of Michael Gove.

Sarah's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 13:17


That's the biggest load of hogwash I've ever had the misfortune to read. You've made yourself sound like a first class loon.

Tim Bidie's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 17:08

I see my enrirely innocuous comment has been awaiting moderation for several hours.

Allan Beavis's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 23:57

Finland, like the other Scandinavian countries, is egalitarian. Fairness, justice and treating everyone equally is embedded deep into the culture. Perhaps this is why the British concept of "accountability" may be so alien to the Finns. Until such time as governments here narrow the achievement and income gaps (and this government has widened the gaps alarmingly) and until ministers such as the ones currently in power, caught in flagrante in bed with the Murdoch empire, conduct their ministerial business with full transparency rather then hide them in private emails has Gove and his SPADS have been doing, then accountability is a civil and democratic right.

Top performing nations like Finland and Ontario don't "govern" themselves in the classroom. The state sets guildelines and expectations but, unlike Gove, gives schools and teachers real autonomy to adapt and tailor make the curriculum and teaching methods in accordance with the make up of students in their school. Teachers are not accountable in the way they are here because the Finns don't punish both teachers and students with a fetish for endless testing.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 28/04/2012 - 08:24

Tim - schools in Finland are required to serve nutritious meals as your second link shows. Schools in Finland aren't allowed to decide for themselves the nutritious quality of the meals:

"Pure Finnish food is safe and healthy. In Finland we can grow oats, barley, wheat and rye, and we also have turnip rape fields, potatoes, root vegetables, onions and cabbages. Cows, pigs and poultry are reared here. We get fish from the many thousands of lakes and from the sea. Our forests provide an abundant supply of berries and mushrooms and great hunting grounds.These things form the foundation of Finnish food culture. They are also one of the basis of Finnish school meals."

(page 2 of the evidence you provided).

You have confused accountability for teaching with the responsibility of schools in Finland to provide nutritious meals.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 13:35


I thought you might enjoy that little jeu d'esprit offered in celebration of the return of Allan Beavis to our little discussion circle.

Allan's every post, as you must know by know, involves the elaboration of one or another conspiracy theory: Academies are a ruse to prepare for the sell-off of all schools to mysterious Cayman Island companies; Gove's enthusiasm for high-tech is linked to Rupert Murdoch's ambitions to dominate on-line learning; Gove's removal of school meal regulations means he's an agent of the Coca Cola company ......etc.....etc.

I have tried remonstrating with him about this - to no avail.

So I thought it might be instructive to reverse the process, as it were, by concocting a corresponding conspiracy theory from the other direction. With a bit of luck, the absurdity of all conspiracy theories might eventually become acknowledged.

.... Fat chance. (I know.)

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 13:39

Good. We're getting somewhere.

Now, in the same spirit, go back and read the OP and tell me which is the nuttier slice of fruitcake.

Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 17:57

I can assure you there is nothing sinister there - none of the comments are moderated but some get held in a filter if they contain lots of links.

Tim Bidie's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 18:23



That explains why my fellow debaters continually ask me for my evidence.

I see my naivety now.

'Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.' Albert Einstein (no link!)

Gemma's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 14:05

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 15:34

Gemma - ah, the good old anecdote again. "Here's a simple thought. When I was growing up in the 70's in Gateshead we ate rubbish. No day was complete without chips more often than not on fried bread. Food was cooked in lard. We ran down to the sweet shop to gorge on the additive-filled fizzy sweets and sticky drinks"

Eee, that's nought. When I were growing up in't fifties we didn't 'ave chips! We ate raw spuds with muck still on. Never did us any 'arm. And when we'd finished spuds we'd wash 'em down with watter from pump in yard. Mam 'ad a stewpot on't stove and she'd bung ought she could forage into pot. I'd come 'ome with many a dead mouse or sparrer and she'd put 'em in't pot 'ole. An' when we'd finished lickin' us plates we'd run twenty mile to nearest shop to spend us coupons on toffees and 'umbugs. We weren't fat - nay, but we 'ad the blackest stumps of teeth in our village.

Gemma's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 18:30

You're right, better to dismiss the whole argument because you have a strange bee in you bonnet about anecdotes. Don't you think it's wrong to put children on restrictive diets? Don't you think it would be better to let children play and burn off all that energy?

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 28/04/2012 - 08:16

Gemma - anecdotes may be true but they need corroborating with evidence. Anecdotes can be repeated and, like Chinese Whispers, bear little relation to the first utterance. Anecdotes can be made-up - do you seriously believe that the writer of the article ate chips wedged between slices of fried bread?

Where did you get the notion that Jamie Oliver wants to put children on "restrictive diets"? He's campaigning for schools to be obliged to serve nutritious meals - perhaps you could explain how that is a "restrictive diet".

It's not a case of exercise v nutrition, as you and the writer of the article imply. It's both. The article writer also has the odd idea that an absence of fat = being healthy, therefore it's OK to fill up children with a diet consisting entirely of unhealthy food as long as they run it off. Children need a balanced diet which, yes, comprises fat and sugar for energy but also the vitamins and minerals contained in nutritious food.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 14:08

Life is stranger than fiction corner:

The Telegraph reports that a study by Dr Michèle Belote, from Nuffield College, Oxford, and Jonathan James, from Essex University, has found that the Jamie Oliver school diet disproportionately advantages middle class kids.

The study, Healthy School Meals & Educational Outcomes found a significant increase in SATS scores among middle class kids eating healthy, Jamie Oliver style school meals, but no corresponding increase among children from poorer socio-economic backgrounds.

The switch to healthy school meals might widen the attainment gap!


Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 16:03

The report said the discovery that test results of disadvantaged children did not rise as much as advantaged ones was in line with previous findings: "there is a bulk of evidence ... showing that interventions targeted at reducing the prevalence of obesity among children are also more effective for girls than boys, and for children from higher socio-economic status. The effects on boys and children from lower-socio economic status are more pronounced if we consider a longer horizon – two years after the intervention."

It would appear, then, that introducing healthier meals isn't a short-term fix but needs to be part of a longer strategy - perhaps one that results in a healthier diet continuing through adulthood which in turn impacts on the next generation. The report doesn't say why the intervention resulted in better results for the more-advantaged children - could they have been healthier to begin with and therefore more likely to respond positively to nutritious meals? I've no idea.


Leonard James's picture
Sat, 28/04/2012 - 06:41

Surely no one can use this to justify poor nutrition in schools!

Allan Beavis's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 23:39

There are many recent examples of this government's incompetence - Theresa May and the deportation of Abu Qatada, George Osborne leading us into a double dip recession, Cameron bungling badly over the price of milk and getting down with the plebs by chomping on a Cornish Pasty (crimped, organic and filled with prime cut beef, presumably) and this school food business is another.

What is the point of the Health Department warning about child obesity when the Education Department pushes through legislation that allows Gove's favoured schools to play hard and fast with nutrition? I'm sure few of us want a nanny state in which regulators prowl around schools to make sure Turkey Twizzlers aren't being re-introduced but Gove might want to stop pretending he isn't a nanny himself and back off from issuing daily and confusing diktats to schools or closing them down against their will. If he and his fellow ministers were really in touch with the public and really cared about vulnerable children in schools, they might decrease child poverty numbers rather than increase them. The least Gove can do is to ensure that there are absolute regulations in place so that the increased number of children rendered poor by Osborne's economic disaster get one proper square meal a day in his vaunted Academies.

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