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One of the great things about blogging is that you’re free to write about whatever you want. Unless you’re in the UK, and you want to blog about school lunches.
A town council in Western Scotland banned nine-year-old Martha Payne from posting entries rating her school lunches.
Payne’s blog Never Seconds recently passed 2-million page views and gradually became about much more than photos of what came out of her school kitchen. When people from around the globe began submitting their own photos and stories, the young girl tried to capitalise on her popularity and got them to contribute towards a £7 000 donation for Mary’s Meals — an organisation that provides food for children in African schools.
In her “goodbye entry” Martha, who writes under the name Veg, explained how she’d been told not to blog:
This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today.
I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too. I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either.
Martha’s father added his own thoughts on the matter to the post:
I felt it’s important to add a few bits of info to the blog tonight. Martha’s school have been brilliant and supportive from the beginning and I’d like to thank them all. I contacted Argyll and Bute Council when Martha told me what happened at school today and they told me it was their decision to ban Martha’s photography.
It is a shame that a blog that today went through 2 million hits, which has inspired debates at home and abroad and raised nearly GBP£2 000 for charity is forced to end.
The blog has raised £8 377.90 since Payne’s story first came to the web’s attention.
The council has since lifted the ban and responded to the flurry of media criticism, issuing the following statement:
Argyll and Bute Council wholly refutes the unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service which culminated in national press headlines which have led catering staff to fear for their jobs. The Council has directly avoided any criticism of anyone involved in the ‘never seconds’ blog for obvious reasons despite a strongly held view that the information presented in it misrepresented the options and choices available to pupils however this escalation means we had to act to protect staff from the distress and harm it was causing. In particular, the photographic images uploaded appear to only represent a fraction of the choices available to pupils, so a decision has been made by the council to stop photos being taken in the school canteen.
There have been discussions between senior council staff and Martha’s father however, despite an acknowledgement that the media coverage has produced these unwarranted attacks, he intimated that he would continue with the blog.
The council has had no complaints for the last two years about the quality of school meals other than one from the Payne family received on 6 June and there have been no changes to the service on offer since the introduction of the blog.
Pupils have a daily choice of two meals from a menu which is designed with pupils, parents and teachers. Our summer menu is about to be launched and includes main course choices like meat or vegetarian lasagna served with carrots and garlic bread or chicken pie with puff pastry, mashed potato and mixed vegetables.
Pupils can choose from at least two meals every day. They pay £2 for two courses and this could be a starter and a main or a main and a desert. Each meal comes with milk or water. Pupils can have as much salad and bread as they want. Salad, vegetables, fruit, yoghurt and cheese options are available every day. These are standing options and are not a result of any changes in response to the blog site.
As part of the curriculum for excellence, pupils in all our schools are regularly taught about healthy eating and at lunch breaks staff encourage pupils to make good choices from what is on offer. We use a system called ‘Nutmeg’ to make sure everything is nutritionally balanced. Our staff also get nutrition awareness training so they know how to provide a good healthy meal. There is portion sized guidance which we adhere to and it is matched to the age of the child so they get the right amount of food. Second portions would mean too many calories for pupils.
In Lochgilphead Primary School we are piloting a new pre-ordering scheme which is designed to encourage class discussion around meal choices and also improves the accuracy of meal choices. The pupils use a touch screen to select their lunch option and the data is downloaded in the kitchen so they know how many portions of each meal are required. As they place their order, the pupils are given a coloured band which relates to their meal choice that day. They wear it during the morning, and at lunchtime they hand it to the catering assistant, who will give them the corresponding meal.
The council’s focus is now on supporting the school in the education of young people in Argyll and Bute.
Speaking to the BBC, David Payne said:
“I understand that it’s brought pressure from around the world and media interest, but that is really out of our control.
“But we are very supportive of the school — the fact that she has been encouraged to blog and she got permission to do this is testament to them.
“Everyone in the kitchens has been wonderful to Martha and she enjoys going into lunch every day.”