When we were children at primary school, we had free milk every day. It came in gill sized bottles (one quarter of a pint). In the winter, it used to freeze and had to be warmed on the central heating radiators. There was no choice for us, at morning break time we had to drink our milk before we were let out into the school yard to play.
All that changed when Margaret Thatcher, who was nicknamed “the milk snatcher”, scrapped free milk for the over 7s in 1971. More recently the Conservatives planned to scrap it for under-fives to save money but David Cameron intervened.
Now, in an about turn, the Education Secretary says that milk must be offered to all schoolchildren but stops short of making it free.
The measures that he is putting in place also state that pupils will only be offered two portions of deep-fried, battered and breadcrumb-coated foods each week. Pastry-based dishes will be subject to the same restrictions. Schools will be completely banned from offering chocolate and confectionery in canteens and tuck shops, and salt will not be available for pupils to add to food after it is cooked.
When Pam and I were at school, the meals served in canteens were dire. They were cooked off the premises and delivered in containers just before lunchtime by the School’s Meal Service. On reflection they were reasonably healthy, we never had chips or pastries and there were always plenty of vegetables. As we ate, the teachers would watch to make sure that nothing was left on the plate. There was no such thing as bringing your own packed lunch, everyone who stayed to school ate the school meal whether they liked it or not.
When I was at Anfield, the whole system changed. Meals were cooked on the premises by school meals and an element of choice crept in but not much. Meals were still two courses with some form of meat, vegetables and potatoes as the first course and a pudding with custard as a dessert.
Then the Schools Meals Service was scrapped and schools had to find private caterers to provide a lunch time meal.
Keen to make a profit, the caterers provided what children wanted rather than what was good for them. Vegetables all but disappeared and boiled potatoes and mash were replaced by a never ending supply of chips. Proper meat gave way to all sorts of derivations like burgers, pasties, turkey twizzlers, chicken drumsticks and fried sausages. Milk was taken over by shakes and sweetened juices. Machines were installed in the canteen that sold crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks.
As senior staff in the school we tried to make changes, restricting chips to once a week and introducing items like fish pie and cauliflower cheese but the children were having none of it. In their own words when confronted with e.g. broccoli, “eee dat is disgustin, I’m not eatin dat” ( the school was in Liverpool you understand). Commerce ruled and so the company running the service argued that they could not afford to provide food that ended up in the waste bins.
I therefore find it hard to imagine that the type of children I taught will react favourably to Mr Gove’s dictates. I can visualise them climbing over the school gates to get to the nearest chippie where they will stuff themselves with a chip barm drenched in curry sauce followed by a packet of heavily salted cheesy puffs all washed down with sugar laden cola.