Yesterday Mr Gove announced that he has asked the co-founders of the restaurant chain Leon, Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, to examine school food across the country.
The restaurateurs will create an action plan to determine the schools that are doing things well and set out how all schools can reach a standard to be ‘proud of.’
They will speak to experts, review research and visit schools as well as carry out primary research to build a picture of school food across the country.
Reacting to Mr Gove’s announcement, Jamie Oliver said, ‘It would be great to be able to welcome this report as I know Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent will do a thorough job. But now is not the time for more costly reports. Now is the time for action and that doesn’t seem to be what we get from Mr Gove when it comes to school food and food education. This just delays action for another year or more.
‘I’m fairly confident that the gentlemen from Leon will end up pushing for the same things that I, and many others, have been pushing for for years, but the question is, will Mr Gove listen? Will he finally do anything about the problems in school food?'
He added, ‘Is it too much to ask for a Government which listens and which sees the ill-health of our country’s children as a major challenge to be met with important, sustainable policies to actually solve the problems? Will this be just another report by good people which is destined to be ignored? I hope not but I fear it will.’
His concerns were echoed by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which has claimed that it would be more efficient for the Government to build on the existing campaign and on-going work in schools for healthy meals by maintaining strict nutritional standards for all schools.
Daniela Wachsening, education policy advisor at the ATL, said, ‘It beggars belief that a Government which has exempted academies from complying with nutritional standards is now commissioning the proprietors of a restaurant chain to examine school food across the country.
‘It is also not enough to simply look at the quality of school food. Lack of funding has already forced the closure of a number of breakfast clubs which have important benefits for pupils’ concentration in class. The rising costs of school meals means that children who live in poverty but do not qualify for free school meals because their parents are not in receipt of out-of-work benefits, frequently cannot afford to eat a meal in school.
‘ATL believes the Government must urgently adopt a more comprehensive approach to improving the quality and accessibility of school food.’
Sharon Hodgson MP, Labour’s shadow minister for children and families, said, ‘We don’t need another review of nutrition in schools – we already have a comprehensive set of standards developed by experts and implemented across our schools.
‘The real problem is that Michael Gove has deliberately exempted academies and free schools - in which more than a million children and rising are taught - from those standards.
‘If he is serious about improving the health and educational outcomes of children, then he needs to perform another u-turn and bring back healthy food standards in all schools rather than just spending more time on another review.’
However, the School Food Trust has welcomed the news.
Chief Executive Judy Hargadon, said, ‘We're delighted people who really understand the challenges and complexities of delivering high-quality, tasty food for lots of people very quickly, are leading this review and we very much look forward to working with them.’
‘We agreed with Government a long time ago that the sensible time to launch a review was following completion of our study of food in secondary schools. In assessing all the progress that’s been made, the key thing here is deciding how best to help our schools and caterers keep that progress going.’