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Fast food option for pupils

A DEAL which could see Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell outlets in schools has shocked healthy-eating campaigners.

Next term catering firm Chartwells takes over the management of school meals in Lewisham, south London, under an agreement by which the firm will spend pound;4.5 million on upgrading run-down school kitchens and re-training staff.

Mike Sparrow, deputy managing director of Chartwells, said: "We propose to put in branded food concepts which kids will probably love. We have consulted with headteachers and they have said 'yes' to the concept."

Last week, Lewisham was chosen to launch the Government's Healthy Schools Initiative, for which the departments of health and education are awarding pound;1.2 million to projects promoting pupils' health and wellbeing.

The borough was chosen because it already has its own healthy schools policy and the national project co-ordinator, Marilyn Toft, is also head of professional development at Lewisham Education.

Chartwells' parent company, the Compass Group, has franchise deals with Burger King, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Upper Crust and Le Croissant Shop.

Small counters, similar to ones at railway stations, universities and hospitals, would be set up in canteens to persuade pupils to eat on site.

Mr Sparrow said the outlets would be among a range of options which included nutritious food. "Granary and wholemeal bread, if it's presented the way it is on the high street, is just as attractive as fried chicken or pizza."

But Imogen Sharp, director of the National Heart Forum, said: "What we have seen in the past is that healthy food gets sidelined. It sticks out as the least interesting choice to teenagers. The food they're proposing is not healthy. It is fried and coated in batter. We don't want to see it in schools." Pupils can go to KFC if they want to at the weekend."

A council spokesman said: "KFC and Taco Bell are one of several names that Chartwells owns. The next step is for Chartwells to consult with schools on what kind of food service they want. No school will be forced to take a service it doesn't want.' Peter Walsh, headteacher at Forest Hill school, said: "They have floated a lot of things with us. We're not ruling anything out. If they want to open a KFC, I wouldn't be very happy with that. But I would be interested in some of the sandwiches and rolls that they do."

Mr Walsh added that reforms to his school's canteen including reducing junk food, having two set meals instead of one, introducing a salad bar and replacing long tables with round ones had greatly improved pupils' eating habits.

Ilir Phillips, headteacher at Sedgehill school, said: "I would want to see Chartwells' full proposals before commenting."

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