22nd July 2005 at 01:00
Joan Sallis Answers governors' questions

We have been looking at our school meals since the TV exposure of low standards. Ours are really bad: take-up is low and even children entitled to free meals bring in jam or chocolate spread sandwiches. We can terminate our contract with the suppliers shortly. How can we provide better school dinners and should governors be involved?

These are good issues for a governing body because its members may well have relevant experience and contacts. There is little point in changing unless you can solve the problem of adequate supervision.

A small group of interested governors with what outside expertise they can recruit seems to me a good forum initially and it could well remain as a standing committee.

You need continuing expert guidance to establish standards and ensure they are maintained.

Decide on your priorities. Will it be healthy ingredients, freshly cooked with no carry-overs, no additives, hygienic kitchen practices? That's what most parents would want. This means charging more and you need experienced staff to cost this and then find out from parents how many would subscribe if these promises were fulfilled.

If this produces a feasible cost and there is enthusiasm, the next issue is maintaining kitchen standards. The ideal would be someone highly skilled, independent and directly accountable to the school - a consultant working on a daily fee basis for a group of schools maybe - to plan menus, lay down codes of kitchen practice and check rules are observed regularly.

The last point is crucial. It is not enough just to appoint a cook with assistant(s), vaguely accountable to the school, where everybody is busy, and expect that standards won't slide.

As for menus, don't get too fancy initially. Pick better quality children's favourites, diversifying gradually.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 0171 782 32023205, or see governorsask_ the_expert where answers to submitted questions will appear

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