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Filling our own faces

I wholeheartedly agree with and support the current efforts - led by Jamie Oliver's School Dinners television series - to focus on a healthier diet for children.

At Islington Green school, we spent several months working with Jamie's production company on the research and background to the programme.

Jamie has put much emphasis on the 37 pence allowed for the contents of a school dinner - a ludicrously small sum to achieve good quality.

But his producer will be well aware that in large schools such as ours (and thus in all secondary schools) the amount spent on the ingredients can double that - and in our cafe, Izzy on the Green, it does.

The reason is quite simple: we chose to run the cafe ourselves.

We opted out of both the local education authority and provision from a private catering company. The private caterer has to make an operating profit and cover its central costs, and therefore takes 40 per cent of the price of a meal. In that case, a meal costing pound;1.20 will divide equally between the company (40p), the meal (40p) and the salaries and overheads of the kitchen and its staff.

By going it alone and using the company's 40 per cent (in our case some Pounds 120,000 per year) we have been able to:

* improve salaries

* employ more staff to supervise students and keep the cafe clean

* invest in the fabric and capital of the kitchen and the cafe

* keep prices at 2002 levels

* buy produce locally

* remove fizzy drinks and other unhealthy products

* provide free fruit

* encourage more teachers and other adults to eat in the cafe, and so model good practice; and

* bring together the school council and the catering staff to review menus.

The only other implications for running the kitchen ourselves have been the use of my principal deputy's time in keeping a weather-eye on events in the kitchen and spending a few hundred pounds a month on advice regarding food-related health and safety issues.

I agree with Jamie Oliver that 37p is a small amount, but the main problem is the completely unnecessary involvement of a third-party, multinational catering company that brings nothing of value to the dinner table.

Trevor Averre-Beeson


Islington Green school

London N1

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