The news that Jamie Oliver’s programmes on school dinners have made the government increase funding for school foods is great; £280m extra will be spent over the next few years, but do note this only brings up the daily budget to 50-60p per pupil for primary schools, which still isn’t that much (the French spend €1.70 a head, or about £1.20). And ingredients aren’t just the only thing that need to be changed; the deregulation of school meals provision and the introduction of private contractors means that cooking equipment has been discarded and the de-skilling of schools catering staff. £60m is earmarked for spending on improving the skills and infrastructure, but that will go pretty thinly when divided over all the schools in England over three years. With admirable gall, the government still insists the suppliers are the best regulators; there is little in the way of actual tougher regulation (merely a “School Food Trust” that would be able to make recommendations). There’s nothing in this plan to stop the outsourcing companies to continue to provide crap food and pocket all the extra money, especially after the media fuss about this subject dies away.
Also, and more importantly, why has it taken a celebrity chef (though no disrespect to Jamie Oliver, who I’ve a lot of admiration for, especially after this project) and a Channel 4 series to get any action to come along? Shitty food in schools has been an acknowledged problem for some time and no-one does anything about it until this series came along. A similar state of affairs often occurs with hospital food – yet the authorities are still obsessed with “choice” rather than nutrition and the quality of food. Alas, no series dedicated to bettering food for our sick and needy has arrived on our screens yet (the singular Dispatches report notwithstanding), and no celebrity chef has yet come to its aid. While Jamie Oliver’s done great things with school food, we can’t expect him to do everything for us.