From education to employment

Ruth Kelly and UNISON Favour Training for Dinner Ladies

When Irene Stacey, UNISON National Executive Council member, started her 30-year career as a school meal-worker, staff were given the time and resources to prepare school meals from scratch.

“I have been a school meals worker for over 30 years. When I first started we prepared all the food from scratch and school meals were seen as a central part of school life. I want to see a return to those ideals where staff are given proper time and ingredients to prepare good quality, nutritious food for the children.”

A Return to Value Values

Many, including Ms. Stacey, would like to see a return to such values, in order to ensure that children are getting the nutrition they require for their physical and academic well-being. However, fresh and well-balanced school dinners require adequate funding and a properly trained workforce.

A recent movement by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has revealed that school meal workers only have an average of 35 ““ 45 pence to prepare school dinners, one quarter of the budget allotted to prison food in the UK. Jamie Oliver’s efforts culminated in a 270,000 signature petition presented to Downing Street before the general election.

The government announced a £280 million funding initiative to improve the quality of school meals on the same day as the petition was delivered. This initiative will include increased time allotted to the preparation of school meals as well as additional training provided to school meal workers.

Secretary State for Education, Ruth Kelly, announced national minimum standards for school meals and more time for school meal workers to prepare nutritious meals from scratch. This will lead to more working hours, and the recruitment of more school meals workers.

Doing The Best With Resources Available, says UNISON

UNISON Head of Education Services, Christian McAnea, says that staff have been doing their best with the resources and time available to them, but in order to meet the demands of the current mandate, more time and staff are required to prepare school meals.

UNISON has been running the “Appetite for Life” Programme since September 2004 in an effort to provide better school meals for students and offer expert support for catering staff. The UK’s largest union is in full support of the government mandate to increase spending on school meals and provide additional training to school meal workers. Indeed, thousands of school meal workers are set to be retrained in order to ensure they are qualified to produce the kinds of fresh and nutritious meals the public now demands.

The response from school meal workers has been mixed, with many claiming that the current debate paints an unfair picture of the level of training common in the industry. Many school meal workers are already trained to NVQ level or above, and feel that the current discussion fails to acknowledge their professionalism and is having widespread negative effects on the morale of workers in the industry.

Nadine Monem

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