Jamie Oliver warns Michael Gove on academy school meals

TV chef Jamie Oliver Jamie Oliver has campaigned for healthier school meals

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TV chef Jamie Oliver has said Education Secretary Michael Gove is endangering pupils' nutrition by not controlling what food academy schools provide.

He said he was "totally mystified" that academies were allowed to determine what food should be on offer, while state schools follow strict rules.

"The public health of five million children should not be left to luck or chance," he told the Observer.

The government says it trusts schools to act in their pupils' best interests.

A campaign by the chef led to tough new legal standards on school meals in England.

Oliver told the newspaper: "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."

'Playing with fire'

Referring to Mr Gove, who enabled more schools in England to become academies through the Academies Bill in 2010, Oliver said: "I have got nothing against him personally. 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."

Academies are semi-independent schools so do not have to abide by regulations introduced in 2008 which set out strict nutritional guidelines for school food.

There are currently 1,776 academies in England and more schools plan on converting to academy-status.

The chef told the newspaper the national standards introduced should apply to all schools and said academy head teachers should be given guidance on the type of food they should be serving.

He also accused academies of making money from vending machines selling 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.

Reconstituted turkey

Mr Gove wrote to Jamie Oliver about the chef's concerns on school meals at academies last August.

He wrote: "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."

He said he had asked the School Food Trust to carry out a survey of food standards in new academies last autumn.

A government 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.

"The tough nutrition standards remain in place in maintained schools and set a clear benchmark for the rest.

"Catering is outstanding in many longest-established academies - we see no reason that they will all not be serving high quality food to pupils that meet the standards."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 372.

    When I left school in Scotland 40 years ago, there were almost no obese children in my school year. With no food police to tell us what to eat, how come that far more of us were not overweight?

    Could it be that we walked, bicycled and exercised more or maybe we were just lucky to escape being bombarded with junk food advertising.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    I hardly have a say what school my children go to. It's all down to catchment area etc. They go to schools that were not necessarily my 1st choice. They are very smart and very healthy and do do exceptionally well. They actually do more for their schools than their schools do for them. The least I can expect in return is a decent lunch, if only not to undo all the good work I do at home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    Schools used to sell bad food in the 1980s when I was at school. We weren't all overweight. What changed is kids stopped walking to school as much and aren't always allowed to go places alone. Not to mention multi-channel TV, online videogames that are highly addictive.

    When the world stops creating so many activities for couch potatoes then perhaps things will improve.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    School meals have never been particularly healthy yet childhood obesity is a relatively recent problem. Kids usually like unhealthy foods and always have done.

    Childhood obesity is caused by overprotective parents stopping their kids playing out and letting them spend endless hours on the internet/TV/computer games.

    Forcing schools to offer only healthy foods is pointless. Poor kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    I work in a secondary school which turned into an academy last September. Since then, the school was then selling cans of pop and it appears that the healthy eating menus have gone out the window. I believe the school has taken this action to generate more revenue.
    The whole ethos of academies is money first, student nutritional welfare second.


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