Pupils' petition a sweet smell of success

4th June 2010 at 01:00
Schools have been urged by MSPs to use their "common sense" and allow pupils to sell Fairtrade sweets and chocolate - even if confectionery is banned by the Government's healthy eating guidelines

Members of the Parliament's public petitions committee had been petitioned by pupils from Dyce Academy and Knowetop Primary in North Lanarkshire over the issue of ethical produce. The Aberdeen secondary's pupils complained that a ban on chocolate and drinks had left them unable to continue their weekly Fairtrade tuck shop.

But Adam Ingram, the Minister for Children and Early Years, stepped in after the petition was lodged, offering clarification on what was becoming an increasingly ambiguous area for schools.

He said that the healthy eating guidelines exempted food provided as part of social or cultural events and that this should include Fairtrade. "While we encourage schools to choose healthier options we also recognise that flexibility is necessary to ensure that social, cultural and recreational activities can be enjoyed and celebrated," he said.

"The exemptions exist to allow school managers the flexibility to decide the limited occasions on which it is appropriate to allow products, not normally allowed, to form part of a social, cultural or recreational activity such as a sports day."

This allowed school managers to use their discretion in deciding the occasions on which Fairtrade confectionery could be provided in schools, taking into account the duty to ensure that they were health-promoting, he said.

Legislation passed in 2007 set minimum nutritional requirements for food sold in schools throughout Scotland, while guidelines the following year said that confectionery should not be provided.

Pupils at Dyce Academy were forced to cancel their weekly Fair-trade tuck shop after they stopped selling chocolate. They told the petitions committee in November that sales of confectionery had previously helped subsidise healthier options, and the stall had raised awareness of ethical food.

Green MSP Robin Harper, a member of the committee, blamed the original confusion on "different interpretations" of healthy eating guidelines; he congratulated the pupils for highlighting the problem.

nick.eardley@tes.co.uk.

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