Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/390/4420
Big business scuppers Jamie's school dinners
WHO RUNS our schools? Teachers and elected councillors or private companies with juicy profitable contracts? That's what people are asking after the Guardian's latest revelations on school meals.
The TV programme Jamie's School Dinners had shown what privatising companies were doing to children's school meals. Firms such as Scolarest sold schools salt-ridden, fatty, un-nourishing junk food such as Turkey Twizzlers.
Jamie Oliver's hard-hitting expos enraged parents, teachers and other education workers. They were angry at the privatisers, at the councils using them and the government that under-financed the schools' budgets and that insisted there was no alternative to privatisation.
Shaken by support for Jamie Oliver, the government rushed out new proposals, promising to impose new nutritional standards on caterers and improve school meals. But when parents and campaigners tried to force action, these big contractors, many with long-term Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts, threatened them.
Scolarest themselves surveyed head teachers in Islington - nearly half of them rated its food as poor. But if you try to get out of the maze of contracts and subcontracts, they say they'll take you to the cleaners.
Merton council in London says six new PFI schools could be exempt from new government guidelines after a company called New Schools had locked them into a 25-year contract. 450 other PFI schools nationally claim they can't be touched regardless of what rubbish they feed our children. PFI, a cornerstone of New Labour policy, brings massive profits for big business.
Even non-PFI schools have been threatened if they get tough to ensure good food. Private company CEA, contracted to run Islington's education services from 2002 to 2007, warns schools that they'd face "substantial financial penalties", equal to the profit they'd have made during the rest of the contract, if they try to opt out of the contract they signed with Scolarest.
Many contractors put vending machines in their schools. The Department for Education and Skills warns that if contractors lose money by removing them, the loss might be put on the schools! What a cheek! Are Mars bar pushers now running our education?
These private companies exist to make profits. Keeping the present system just puts profits before nutrition for school children. The government should ensure that every school has the money to do its work.
We say: Private-sector involvement in education must end. Reverse all privatisation! School meals should be produced either in schools by local education authority employees or by publicly owned companies democratically elected and controlled.
Poor food hits children's health
NICKY DOWNES, a primary school teacher, parent and Socialist Party candidate in Coventry North West, comments on the school meals controversy.
"IT'S NO surprise that PFI contractors are preventing nutritious meals replacing junk food in our schools. These contractors will make meals that give them the biggest profit over the longest time.
They know that changing eating habits, particularly of secondary age children, will hit profits in the short term.
The other issue is commercialisation in schools. Labour's education minister Ruth Kelly spoke about providing better food from vending machines. Unfortunately the privatised firms know that big brands like Coca-Cola sell and will make big profits.
In primary schools, we don't make dinners from scratch on the premises. There are just facilities to reheat prepared meals made centrally.
Ten years ago, staff and parents campaigned unsuccessfully to keep school kitchen facilities that had salad bars, meat and vegetarian options. Even the teachers ate there each day.
Now school children are being given cook-chill food of a nature that will adversely affect their long-term health."
In The Socialist 28 April 2005: