18th April 2003 at 01:00
Answers your questions

As a parent governor I am appalled by the unhealthy choices of food available for school lunches. It is a long day for many in our area who come in by bus from far and wide, and many who used to take packed lunch at the village primary now feel they should have a hot meal at the comprehensive.

However, they get nothing but burgers, chips, sausages, baked beans, chicken nuggets, etc, and many parents are going back to sandwiches because at least they are wholesome. Have we as governors any say? The take-up of meals is steadily declining.

You certainly have a say. Schools have freedom to negotiate their own catering contracts or could even provide meals themselves if they wish.

The governing body is also required to monitor the quality of what is provided and ensure a healthy diet. Many complained this was an imposition on us when it was introduced, but I think it should be taken seriously.

Following complaints and declining take-up, we have recently changed our caterers in the school where I am a governor. We have sample menus and they now offer an excellent choice of meals - and take-up has improved markedly.

They do contain burgers and chips, but also a range of pasta dishes, salads, vegetarian alternatives, soup, fruit, sandwiches and always at least one "old-fashioned" meal with fresh vegetables and a serious pudding.

It takes more than a healthy choice to persuade many children that there are better things to eat than the current popular favourites, but it helps if parents make their views known and governors take the issue seriously and ask for it to be an agenda item.

It also helps if the school, in its curriculum, stresses the importance of healthy eating, not just for health but also for figure, hair, skin and other things the students are beginning to care about.

A lot can also be done about the lay-out of the dining area, the way in which things are presented and the accompanying descriptive material. We may not be able to bring back a traditional, fully home-cooked meal, because of the different circumstances of many homes today and the availability of short-cut alternatives. But we can still get across the message that there are plenty of healthy and appetising dishes that do not take hours to prepare or cost any more than junk, and some students surely will take that into adult life.

Do not expect miracles, but healthy alternatives can still be provided at a profit and, in time, many will come to appreciate them.

When I see the load secondary children carry to school I worry about their backs. Some are distinctly lop-sided. Can governors do anything?

I DO not think we shall see old-fashioned desks again, but many schools provide lockers to rent and many parent-teacher associations provide them.

There are also excellent rucksack-type school bags available, specially designed to avoid back problems, and schools can at least promote these and even buy them in bulk to sell themselves.

Please keep requests for private replies to a minimum. Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 32023205, or see governorsask_ the_expert

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