School Meals saga: Council distorts facts and blocks Martha’s blog

This story just gets worse.

The BBC’s You and Yours radio programme this morning carried first an interview with Martha Payne and her father and then with a council manager responsible for the school catering service – Jane Murphy.

Martha Payne is, of course, the nine year old pupil at Lochgilphead Primary School whose blog and photographs blew the whistle on the inadequate schools males – in volume, variety and nutrition – too often served up there.

The Paynes were lucid, factual and balanced. Martha said some of her school  meals were ‘lovely’ but others were not. She mentioned particularly the general paucity of vegetables on offer.

Her father was honestly shocked by the photographs he saw of what his daughter was being given to eat – and noted that he has been getting all sorts of emails from all over the place, with people sending him photographs of what their children are getting to eat at school.

Mr Payne said that most of them – then corrected himself to say that ALL of them – were better than what is being served up to Martha. He mentioned one roast dinner with two types of vegetables for under £2.

Then came the council, officer, Jane Murphy – who parrotted the line taken by Facilities Manager, Malcolm  MacFadyen, on BBC radio the other day.

This story is all the child’s fault. Children make choices.

She said specifically that the content of the plates photographed by Martha Payne showed what Martha herself had chosen.

This is flatly not the case, What young Martha Payne showed was emphatically what she had been given.

Ms Murphy went on to paint a glowingly luscious picture of the meals on offer – talking of platters of fruit, a wide selection of vegetables, endless salads – and specifically instanced ‘cherry tomatoes and watercress’.

We have since been unable to find any child who eats at Lochgilphead Primary School who has ever had ‘cherry tomatoes and watercress’ there.

In every breath of this interview was the imputation that this child has overegged the pudding – if anyone could overegg the ice lolly the world saw perched on the side of Martha Payne’s plate?

The picture from Ms Murphy conjured the notion that, just out of the carefully edited frame of the child’s photographs, were platters piled high with glorious fruit, with dishes of all sorts of vegetables there to choose from, piles of salads and, of course, the ubiquitous cherry tomatoes and watercress.

What is unforgivable is far less the unacceptable quality of the meals  – which is an issue that can be put right – than the readiness to distort the truth and the level of comfort in deliberately undermining the veracity of an obviously truthful child.

The culture at Kilmory really cannot get any lower than this – and may be a problem, unlike the dodgy meals, that cannot be put right.

This is certainly a matter which Argyll expects the incoming new administration at the council to confront and on which it will be judged by the evidenced progress it makes.

And a telling little footnote: as is their usual modus operandi in ‘transparency’, the council has now blocked Martha’s blog from the public sector broadband network it controls across Argyll and Bute.

The council seems not to realise the extent of worldwide interest in this story.

We have blocked attempts being made through us by television stations in Spain, France and Germany and by the BBC in London, to reach the Paynes – because we are aware that they are doing everything they can to protect their child from an overdose of media attention.

If the council continue to peddle their inexactitudes at the expense of the child’s reputation, they may leave the Paynes with no alternative but to speak out to the multifarious media platforms clamouring to talk to them.

And incidentally, Martha and her parents have been told that school staff cannot now talk to any of them about her food.

We understand that tomorrow, Tuesday 15th May 2012, a group of councillors is to visit Lochgilphead Primary School to eat there. Cherry tomatoes and watercress, anyone?

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69 Responses to School Meals saga: Council distorts facts and blocks Martha’s blog

    • ‘Argyll and Bute Council’ – yes, but which one, the old contemptibles or the new order? – I wonder if the latter are aware of the ‘one party state’ trick of blocking Martha’s blog, or was this a ‘delegated decision’?. Wait till the Daily Mail etc get to hear of that.

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  1. “the council has now blocked Martha’s blog from the public sector broadband network it controls across Argyll and Bute.”

    Exactly what is this network? The Council’s own internal network for its offices, libraries, schools etc? Or something wider, used by other organisations and/ or the general public?


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    • Mairi – this is the Pathfinder North superfast (in parts) broadband network the taxpayer – and Argyll and Bute Council Tax payers – paid for.

      A public promise was given at a meeting in Campbeltown that commercial subscriptions for business and domestic users would follow through a third party commercial provider, making best use of this more advanced network,
      That has not happened. We have persistently chased it and all we get are blocking replies giving the clear sense that it will never happen.
      The Pathfinder North network in Argyll and Bute serves all council premises and staff – and the raft of public services delivered through the council – like schools, libraries etc.
      Third sector organisations are also given access to it.
      It is a very large and capable network.

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  2. Looking at the ‘damage limitation measures’ taken by the council I just wonder if they’ve seeped out of a bastion of the old order within the senior management? Any attempt to impose the rule of omerta looks like it could backfire very badly indeed, and the sooner whoever’s responsible realises that southern Italian practices are no longer acceptable – or resigns to spend more time with their family – the better. Otherwise they might just be digging their own grave.

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  3. I have read with interest the article regarding school meals. I feel I must defend the integrity of Jayne Murphy, someone I have known for many years. I know the pride she has in her role and the efforts she goes to under huge budget constraints to do an excellent job. Please please do not tar her with the same brush as highly paid officials who you continually hunt. (In most cases, quite rightly!) My own children one who attends Oban Primary campus and the other Oban High speak highly of their school meals. There is choice and very good choice every day. Yes this needs sorted out, but a child of nine can make their own choices. What I find strange is why a nine year old has & is allowed her own blog? Also a mobile in school with a camera? Strange how she has been thrown into the limelight? Who is really behind this, the child or someone else seeking their five minutes of fame? Sad times we live in. Hope the new council speak to Jayne so she can answer with her honesty and integrity she has always displayed.

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    • We have absolutely no trouble in accepting that good staff can be sent out to defend the indefensible where their well paid seniors, who are the responsible and policy setting officers, prefer to stand back.

      On the same tack, you might like to think more sensitively about a nine year old child and parents who are patently doing their level best to create for her the context of accounting for and standing up for herself.

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    • I don’t find it strange that a nine year old has a blog, nor do i find it strange that they have a camera in school. I do find it strange that someone who puts the responsibility of their health onto a child thinking that same child is too young to have an opinion.

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  4. I am reminded of my response to my father when he would criticise me for whatever heinous crime I had just committed. I would simply ask: “Well Dad, what do you think was to blame: genetics or environment?”.

    If ABC are blaming Mandy for making “wrong” choices then surely that means that the nutritional education she has been receiving from her school has been deficient? Or are they suggesting that Mandy wilfully engineered the whole situation…?

    The old adage about stopping digging when you are in a hole seems apposite.

    What the Council should have done was say something along the lines of: “The meals that Mandy photographed were clearly inadequate both in terms of their nutrition and in terms of quantity. The Council do not know why this occurred but are investigating to see if there are lessons that can be learnt but in the meantime the Council would like reassure parents that the Council works hard to ensure that all the children in its schools have a well balanced, healthy and appealing menu with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables always available. ABC always welcome scrutiny of what is on offer and will always respond positively to any suggestions coming from parents, staff or the pupils as to how school lunches can be improved. Starting tomorrow, we are launching an Argyll-wide competition open to all our primary students to see who can produce the best, most entertaining and most constructive blog on the subject of their school lunches. We will have Nick Nairn judge the winner and we have also asked Nick to be a special advisor on future developments of our school menus….”

    That’s how you handle this sort of situation.

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    • In some cultures the only form of response to criticism and protest is to attack. Reminds me slightly of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, but then he thinks the country and its people are there for his benefit, rather than the other way around.

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    • You have a flair for this kind of thing, Douglas!

      Could it be that an understaffed communications dept has some part to play in the less than ideal response by A&B?

      As for Nick Nairn……his “day rate” is certainly mouth watering.

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  5. What did you expect from the education department, if the new administration don’t act quickly nothing will change, will they sort out ABC Schools Ltd, is there going to be transparency here. What are the true costs.

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  6. I thought I’d read this and see real people supporting their community, Lochgilphead, Argyll and ForArgyll you should be ashamed of yourself! You should support the people within the school and council trying to deliver a service to YOUR community and YOUR children! I wonder if the parents of the child thought about doing the right thing and approach the school, not thrust their 9 year old into the lime light! This is a joke…pull your act together and support your local council!

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    • The majority of the people living in Argyll did not vote to support their council, they are real people, all people are important, in my opinion the education department is not open and transparent, every time I have raised an issue with them, it takes months to resolve.

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  7. I work in a school kitchen (not in the area mentioned however) and yes we struggle every day to try and encourage children to eat a balanced meal. In my area we have 3 choices of main meals every day from chicken wraps to macaroni cheese, steak pie, chicken curry…all served with potatoes, wedges, mash, rice, pasta….as well as vegetables, pasta salad, rice salad, cucumber, tomato etc…and also various breads offered. Sadly many children will not eat the vast majority of food on offer. They shun all vegetables and salads despite the dinner ladies encouragement. Yes we do have kids wandering off with only a chicken wrap, refusing all the other food on offer. This is hardly the fault of the school or the dinner ladies. If children accepted everything they are entitled to they certainly would not be hungry!

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  8. The proposed school visit by councilors is a welcome first step, but only so long if they speak to children and catering staff in private, individually, at random, without names being taken, and without any Kilmory apparatchiks being present. For obvious reasons!

    But their investigation must not end with a dietary assessment of the school meals. They should also ponder on why, once again, Argyll is the focus of ridicule in the national news nedia. Following so soon after the breathtaking ineptitude of the school closure debacle, our reputation for decent standards of local government has been shredded by the antics of the assorted buffoons at Kilmory.

    I was disappointed that none of the candidates in the council elections mentioned this issue in their leaflets. It really must be their priority because any efforts to realise their policies will surely founder of they depend on the clowns at head office. Get rid of them. We deserve better.

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  9. Having listened to the radio piece referred to above, I don’t think that Jane Murphy did as bad a job as the article perhaps makes out. She says lots of positive things and the only error I would say she makes is not to openly admit that there was a problem with what Martha had for lunch on those days. It is difficult to respond positively to criticism but being able to say “mea culpa” is a great way of defusing a situation. Hopefully though this situation will encourage the Council to review the menus with perhaps some input from chefs and, importantly, to benchmark what ABC is providing against what is on offer elsewhere. Improvement is always possible.

    I think Martha comes across very well in the interview and so is a good advert for education in Argyll generally.

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  10. Hopefully the BBC team will follow up – I have sent the “you and yours” team a link to this article

    @ L Patrick – I’m sure we would love to support the council – if only they would behave properly and not like a body controlled by the Ceaușescus

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  11. It’s a pity this is all taking place before the new administration is up and running. There’s an opportunity here for Argyll & Bute to promote itself and our council officers are so focused on their Fort Kilmory attitude that they’re missing it. If they’d taken Martha’s hand and looked into it they could have been partners in her journey.

    I’ve spoken to some of our new councillors about it and they’ll be looking into this just as soon as they’re all voted into place on 22nd May. Councillor Devon is proposed as Children’s Champion and is particularly impressed with Martha’s work.

    Meanwhile the chance is being lost to showcase the foods that Argyll & Bute excels in. We have shellfish, fish, eggs, pork, lamb and beef to promote. We have kids growing their own lunchtime vegetables in the school garden. We have parents and grandparents volunteering to pass traditional cooking and baking skills on to the new generation. The council could have taken Martha on a journey to see how together they could organise for some of that wonderful food to be on Martha’s plate. It would have made great news for everyone concerned and spread it a little further too.

    Roll on 22nd. There are some council officials who need helped towards a less bunkered attitude.

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    • Totally agree re quality produce on our doorstep however we also have government and european imposed procurement restrictions which sadly prevents local produce being purchased as it is not competetive in pure finance terms. (not something I agree with as I’m all for keeping the Argyll pound in Argyll and fully acknowledge all the soci -eco benefits). I’m afraid until such times as monies are allowed to be expended in a sensible manner then the “brake bros” of this world will continue to win tenders and mass supply organisations. However, you are in the right party to get it sorted Anne so…….

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      • JayC, there’s a lot that’s said to be down to EU legislation but I’m finding out that the same legislation applies to the private sector and they’re not hobbled by it. Argyll & Bute people have a great deal to share and, especially in hard times, we need find ways to accommodate that. Some of it’s just about having officials that have learned to look for the way to say yes. It may seem a simple difference but it’s a very important one. There is an opportunity, as you say, to consider the wider socio-economic benefits. It may not be possible to fund everything all at once in the current climate but it would be good to see the way found and a start made.

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        • Private / Public legislation is totally different. If as a private restuarant manager I want to source local produce, say fish, I simply go to the local supplier, choose the finest on display and can even negoitate the price. However, if I as the local catering manager want to do the same, I pick from the supplier on the approved list and it’s shipped to me at a pre-set price and I have to assume it’s meeting a minimum standard in terms of quality. These are realities of bundling contracts together -economies of scale versus local economies.

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      • Is it not the case that local authorities do not have their hands entirely tied by procurement legislation? Thay have a degree of flexibility to accept higher priced tenders if they can justify it on other relevant factors (i.e. local economy development would be an obvious one)

        It is a myth banded about by local authorities when trying to push through service cuts that best value demands it of them. The concept of best value extends well beyond just issues of price.

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        • Again check the detail and you’ll find that LA’s are tied into national agreements accross a range of goods and services. You must buy paper from X, you must buy meat from Y. Best Value, Value for Money, it’s all about more for less and if you think any different then your kidding yourself on.

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          • Check the facts and you will notice that even the Scottish Government’s Procurement Policy handbook (which all public sector organisations need to comply with)references Regulation 30 of The Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2006 which makies clear that the overarching aim of public sector procurement activity in Scotland must be the achievement of value
            for money for the taxpayer with VFM defined as the optimum combination of whole-life cost and quality (or fitness for purpose).

            The 2006 Regulations 2006 sets out two methods for evaluating tenders. Contracting authorities can award contracts on the basis of the most economically advantageous
            tender or the lowest price.

            It specifically mentions that in determining the criteria for the award of contracts, purchasers should rarely rely on price alone. This is because awarding contracts on the basis of the most economically advantageous tender allows purchasers to balance the quality of the goods, services and works they are
            procuring against price and to frame specifications in a way which encourages innovation rather than defining the solution.

            Appropriate investment appraisal techniques should be used in assessing which
            compliant bid offers best value for money.
            As part of value for money, due regard to other relevant organisational policies is important, for example, policies in relation to corporate social responsibility /sustainability.

            The latter part leaving the door well and truly open to flexibility in procurement decisions if they can be justified on the grounds of supporting some other council policy.

            This stype of approach is common where a Council leases a property to a business for below market rates in order to try and encourage enterprise. If they can apply that logic in that situation then they can apply it elsewhere.

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          • : You miss the point -LA’s and A & BC are already tied into national contracts in a number of cases. Individual service area and establishment expenditure is bundled together as a total authority expenditure and then in some cases further grouped in Public Sector expenditure. A tender is then created for whatever the goods or services are and a preferred or approved provider choosen. It is that supplier that MUST be used. So you quote from the handbook and interpret in whatever way you want – the scenario outlined above is representative of how it works in practice. Incidentally your handbook is somewhat out of date and the 2012 version is available. There been a few SSI’s passed since then.

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          • Is it not the case that local authorities are only encouraged to sign up to national contracts – they are not forced to?

            I am not saying it is a bad idea full stop – there and pros and cons to it. I am just saying that claims that the Council have no option due to national contracts appears to be a misleading argument.

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          • As a further comment A&B’s own procurement manual (last updated 2011)states that

            ‘the objectives in carrying out significant procurement exercises for the Council should reflect the overall goals and objectives of the Council. Individual goals and objectives should be set with reference to the balanced scorecard.

            There are four elements to the balanced scorecard.

            1. Price
            2. Internal Process
            3. Sustainability
            4. Enhanced Service Delivery

            This is followed by a definition of the four elements – sustainability is the most pertinent one to this discussion. It states that

            Sustainability can come in a number of guises;

            • Environmental improvements can be made from purchasing more efficient equipment in terms of energy consumptions (if quantifiable this may also be a price saving), or from switching to recycled goods, or from reducing delivery frequency or haulage distances.

            • Social benefits can be obtained if the method of service delivery proposed under the new contract delivers consequent benefits to the local communities (where this is not the primary aim of the contract). Wider social benefits are gained from the use of fairly traded goods.

            • Economic benefits can be obtained where the nature of the contract will deliver wider economic benefits within the Council area, either through the use of community benefit clauses, or from the nature of the service delivery planned.

            Also important is the definition of Enhanced Service Delivery which it is stated is is obtained where the nature of the contract is such that it provides a better outcome than that achieved to date, on the primary aim of the contract.

            So the Council’s own agreed procedures give them clear grounds to support local business and providers even if they don’t necessarily offer the most price competitive product. That isn’t to say I would fully advocate paying massive premiums just to support local business, there clearly has to be a sensible balance.

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          • Yes that’s what I’m saying. Just checked the FTSE and seemingly Croquettes are the new ‘potato gold’. Get in there quick – there’s a quick buck to be made before all LA’s withdraw from their respective contracts and go local.

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          • Well, I am shocked and stunned. I thought I could achieve world domination through Micro-chips, but instead it is the lowly, unassuming croquette.

            That half-baked idea has fair mashed up my brain. Man, I’m boiling mad now :)

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          • Interestingly the only reference to use of national contracts in the Council’s Procurement Manual is in relation to the purchase of paper & stationery and the leasing of office equipment.

            It also references national Category A commodities which are those goods or services that are standard or of a similar nature across the largely common requirements of the Scottish public sector. It states that ‘Currently in scope Category A areas include IT hardware and software, office equipment, utilities, professional services and telecoms among others.’
            The bottom line is that it makes no specific reference whatsoever to national contracts for food/school meals etc. You would have thought with the quantity of food bought that if such a contract existed then there would be reference to it however if anyone can confirm whether there is one then that would be appreciated.

            My guess is there isn’t one.

            As an aside there is also a section on procurement of contractors which states‘
            ‘Always have a clear specification of the work to be carried out ‘

            Which brings me back to the question of whether the clear specification for Kier Bloomer included the informal, formal or both periods of consultation!

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  12. Ho hum, editing at fault again

    “Martha Payne is, of course, the nine year old pupil at Lochgilphead Primary School whose blog and photographs blew the whistle on the inadequate schools males”

    or is she complaining about them as well?

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    • Well spotted. We have decided to leave this latest typo in place as a tribute to your sense of humour and as a lighter moment.

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  13. There is two sides to this story!! First of all has anyone thought about the dinner ladies that are on the front line and are getting the abuse for all this? It’s not them that makes the decisions on what to feed the kids yet they are getting a hard time from the whole school now and are also very seriously worried about losing their jobs because of a nine year old girl!!! Secondly, a little bit of investigation goes a long way….. The little girl in question is taking the unhealthiest meal on the menu each day, when there is healthier choices….. And she is also taking some food off the tray before she photos it for her blog!!!! Where is the integrity in that!!! Maybe this is just a case of her parents looking for their 15 minutes of fame but surely there is better ways to do it!!!

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      • My partner works in the school as a dinner lady and ALL the staff have watched her take things off the tray before photographing it, this has also been witnessed by numerous other kids in the primary school.
        Evidence cannot be given as the dinner ladies are not allowed to take cameras into the school to photograph he kids!!!!

        Is that enough evidence for you

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        • Calum, So when will your partner speak out in public? I am sure her employers would be more than happy for her to do so, as it gets them out of a big hole!!! I look forward to hearing her side of the story!!! Now that would be Evidence.
          Newsroom,Can you follow these claims up?

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          • You know as well as I do, they are not allowed to speak up for themselves!!! Their bosses have told them they are not allowed to speak to any press or news agencies!!

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    • Thanks Calum! Once again we dinner ladies are coming in for all kinds of abuse and as I stated before there is nothing at all we can do about it. I can’t comment on the school in question but it certainly looks like the wee girl chose not to take all that was on offer. We do 200+ lunches every day in our school and this all has to be ready and served in very tight time limits due to only having an hour for lunch break. In an ideal world we could all be like Jamie Oliver…cooking very healthy meals from scratch but sadly dinner ladies don’t have that luxury. I throw out a challenge to everyone who is complaining…..arrive at work 8.30….cook 200+ meals and serve them all (remembering to encourage healthy choices to all children) in the time available! Deal with the children who won’t eat anything green or remotely healthy….and deal with all the complaints and flack from parents, press and 9 year olds….and all for minimum wage! This whole “news” item should have been investigated further before going to press. Once again the low paid and overworked are being chastised for something they have no control over. Healthy eating begins at home. You can’t expect your children to make healthy choices at school if they are fed rubbish at home.

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      • So far, on this web site, I haven’t seen the dinner ladies come in for any criticism, if anything their position and lack of control in all this has been accepted and understood. The criticism has been towards the senior management of the education dept for the way they have responded to the situation.
        However, as you say Jenny, in an ideal world to cook very healthy meals from scratch like Jamie Oliver is a luxury that dinner ladies don’t have. Luxury isn’t something on the menu either for dinner ladies or ( the important people in all this) the diners. But I’m very much inclined to agree with you that the canteen user in question must have made choices that didn’t fully reflect the range and diversity of food options on offer. I would certainly hope so because if not, I struggle to understand how it takes from 8.30 to lunch time in a professional kitchen to reheat bought in pre-prepared pizza, bought in pre-prepared potato croquettes and to serve it up with packet veg and an ice lolly.

        Good luck and well done to the young girl with her web-site. I imagine had the content been about some eco-friendly initiative the school was keen to promote or be associated with it would all have been so very different. Lessons for all in that, old and young.

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      • Fantastic response Jenny. You and yours should have contacted you direct for some straight talking. This is not a political issue, lack or resource etc it is about the culture of cooking and eating in the home where numerous families do not eat properly. You are one of the only people to point the finger at the children who do have huge choice daily, but choose not to eat what is available. Don’t know how we get round the problem but going down the blog route with 9 year-old is not the way.

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        • ‘You are one of the only people to point the finger at the children’ – why do you think that might be Give A&B a Chance?

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        • Where ever did you get the idea that this was ever about ” the culture of cooking and eating in the home where numerous families do not eat properly” ?
          I can think of reasons why it might have moved centre stage though. Possibly a deflection tactic to avoid addressing the real issue? Frankly I find all this finger waving and tut-tutting from the few to the “numerous” even more distasteful than the industrially extruded croquette.

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        • Erm. Stop offering unhealthy
          food. Could that be a solution? Why is nutritionally inadequate food offered at all to such young children?

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          • I agree with you but sadly lots of children in the school I work in will not eat anything remotely healthy. We have 3 choices of main meals on our menu each day and yes we do offer pizza, macaroni, sausages as a third choice simply because the children in question would go hungry rather than eat the healthy alternative. The vast majority of them are not obese and it is their only hot meal of the day. It is a really difficult situation and not as black and white as it would appear.

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    • Perhaps on her blog Martha should list all the food choices that were available to her for each meal – so we can see all these wonderful healthy options that she is apparently shunning.

      I think Martha and her family have made it quite clear about why she started the blog – it wasn’t to get anyone into trouble, it wasn’t intended as an expose of school dinners, it wasn’t them searching for their 15 mins of fame. I think they are shocked by the reaction and I get the impression it was not the reaction they had anticipated (or set out to gain!)

      I love that the children got served cherry tomatoes on the day that the council came to visit the dinner hall !!

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      • Could her attention seeking parents not have contacted the school to discuss rather than cause this ridiculous situation arise? We now have A&B wasting money on justifying the excellent service they provide for school meals.

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    • No such criticism has been made on For Argyll, either in articles by us or in any comments.
      Everyone is aware that school kitchens cook what they are told with what products are delivered to them.
      They do not make the contracting decisions.
      We have become aware of a different Argyll and Bute primary school, with its own kitchen, where the cook claims to have been instructed previously by a council employee to cut £10 a week off the spend, specifically on fruit and vegetables.
      It is worth noting that the overall cost per meal to Argyll and Bute is higher than many.
      The question is how much of that overall cost actually goes on the raw materials for the meals – and how does that figure compare with the same cost element in other local authorities.
      Parents and taxpayers need to be sure that the headline price per meal is not seeing more creamed off it for profit by contractors – with no difference for the average elsewhere in the cost of the food itself.

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        • Newsroom, Calum has also stated in a comment above that “The little girl in question is taking the unhealthiest meal on the menu each day, when there is healthier choices….. And she is also taking some food off the tray before she photos it for her blog!!!!” I think his comment should be removed, if he is unable to support his claim with some evidence, his partner, has so far been unwilling to speak out.

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          • Seems to me that “not sure” might be the little girls dad!!!
            Not wanting to believe anyone elses story and wanting any statements that say anything against Martha taken off!!!!
            Can you prove she didnt take stuff off the trays before photographing them and can you prove she didnt take the unhealthiest meals!!!
            No, didnt think so!!!
            What happened to freedom of speech? or is that not allowed either?

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  14. I don’t seem to be able to find any critism of dinner ladies here. In fact, I think there is universal appreciation for the incredible job that dinner ladies (and men) do – in some cases working minor miracles with what they are given to work with.

    They are the frontline staff in this and as we have seen before, they are caught between the staff working in the big castle and kids and parents who are with them in reality.

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  15. Some of the comments on here about Martha and her parents are pretty appalling and also lacking in sense. If her parents were doing this to be attention seekers why would they have exposed it via a 9 year old’s internet blog – as a story it was a gimme for the national papers (as proven by the reaction when the blog, which received no attention at first, for some unknown reason, went viral) and surely attention seeking parents would have gone straight to them.

    There is no hard evidence that the parents were out to make a name for themselves but there is hard evidence that food available to these kids (irrespective of whether it was a choice) was inappropriate and inadequate – yet there are people more eager to blame the parents and a 9 year old than asking questions of the Council (including the Council themselves).

    They also criticise the parents for the way they dealt with the situation but seem quite happy with the way the Council dealt with it. I find that staggering. The Council got a Head of Service and ran to the national radio to publicly have a go at a 9 year old child and then strongly suggest that her parents are failing her (unlike the Head of Service who took the opportunity to promote his own parenting skills). It was amateur hour on the part of the Council which epitomises an attitude to the public, and a reaction to them, which many people have become accustomed to from this corporate management team.

    Give A&B a chance? They need to earn that right and are failing miserably to do so. Just to be clear I aim that firmly at those running the show from the top branches. Like most of us I know many people working in the lower echelons of the Council who are dedicated and work conscientiously with their integrity firmly intact. This cannot be said of those who call the shots and, far too often, are happy to allow or create the perception that the fault lies elsewhere.

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  16. Sorry, I know dinner ladies haven’t been given any flack on this site….I meant that generally we do get more than our fair share of criticism. In 2 newspapers that I have read this week columnists have blasted us (without checking out the facts first)The same happened when Jamie Oliver highlighted unhealthy school meals. We had already changed our menus long before Jamie Oliver became involved but still we came in for general flack from press and columnists. I would also like to add that our menu needed a lot of tweaking back then as children simply would not eat the healthy fare on offer and meal numbers dropped to an all time low! Even now, things like fresh fruit salad will see children go without dessert as they just won’t eat it! It’s very difficult and I don’t have a solution sadly. Perhaps if parents introduced their children to a healthy and varied diet before they started school it might go a long way to solving the problem. While I think it is the job of school kitchens and dinner ladies to carry on healthy eating that has been learned at home, I don’t think it is our job to introduce the whole idea of nutricious food.

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    • Oh I’m sure you do get more than your fair share of unjustified criticism.
      Some years ago I was talking to a canteen manager ( in a large factory) who told much the same story.
      He had come to terms and was quite philosophical about it. He explained to me what he told his staff, that the canteen was more than just a place to eat, it was a place to sit with friends, a break from work and it’s pressures and deadlines, and a break from the boss, the supervisor or whatever. After a tough shift, he said, dealing with impossible deadlines,unreasonable customers and a supervisor who expects miracles which cat gets kicked by the workers come lunch-time? It’s the food, the choices, the queues, the prices….it’s not personal, it’s the frustrations of the day talking, and complaining about the canteen is the only way they have to express their frustration or, sometimes exercise any control. That’s catering for you, the food’s the easy bit.

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  17. I raised my concerns with my children’s primary school in Argyll 2yrs ago, with the head teacher, I asked if I could even pay extra for 2 sausages as my boys were so hungry, I asked why the food was so poor and inadequate, I explained that due to my work commitments that the school meal was often the most important meal of their day yet it was the worst! The head replied it was nothing to do with her, the dinner lady in charge was great and called me direct to explain that under council policy she was only allowed to give one sausage and true to the name of Martha’s blog – NeverSeconds, the dinner lady told me the children are not allowed to have second helpings!
    I believe there is too much choice for primary school age children, it is not difficult to conjour up 1 meal plus a vegetarian option each day of the week that the majority of kids would eat, if packed lunches were banned then peer pressure would soon see the kids eating again.
    Mon – spag Bol veg hidden in it
    Tues – chicken curry veg hidden in it
    Wed – pork sausages (2!) wedges, baked beans
    Thurs – shepherds pie – veg hidden
    Fri – fish and chips
    If children know that they have to eat school lunch sitting down with their friends in a well behaved manner when they begin school at 5 yrs then we can erase this culture together. Whilst parents are allowed to send their children in with bags of junk food disguised s pack lunches it will never work, let the dinner ladies do what they are good at – cook!
    School lunch should be part of the education our children receive as much as the lessons! Yes healthy eating should (in an ideal world) begin at home but not all children are that lucky.

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  18. if you look into what has happend you will find there has been no change at all to the school dinners …the school has a menu system, with always a healthy choice and also more “main stream” meals for the kids who will not eat if there is no “junk ” on the plate, there is always salad and baked potatos, or a choice of main meal off the four week menu, perhaps if veg asked the dinner ladys if she could photograph all the choces she has on offer, it would give a better reflection of the healthy options that are being passed up

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