When I was at secondary school my lunch usually consisted of a packet of Space Raiders and a Toffee Crisp, washed down with a healthy can of Dr Pepper, at least until I started spending the lunch money on fags. And look at me now – a strapping hulk of a man with teeth like Donny Osmond.
Partly the reason I avoided school dinners was because they looked, smelled and tasted like something served up in Attica Penitentiary; that seems to have improved, as has the quality of food across British society.
But many people prefer packed lunches, large proportions of which are apparently devoid of nutrition and presumably contribute to the nation’s morbid levels of obesity as well as educational shortcomings. The Department for Education, therefore, on the advice of Leon chef Henry Dimbleby, is advising that schools ban packed lunch.
Of course Dimbleby is right, and it’s best if schools did not allow kids to eat junk. Better schools already restrict such food, and many more struggling ones would like to but are hesitant to pick another fight with the kids and parents. And there is no reason why a headmaster should not ban packed lunches in his school, especially if the school wishes to give at least one nutritional meal a day to pupils who might otherwise not get one; that has long been the practice of social reformers. But it will still strike many as the state taking on yet another parental role in society.
And why do we need the Department to tell us the obvious? Indeed why do we need the Department for Education at all? There’s much to admire in Michael Gove, although some teacher friends do not share these feelings. What I especially like is that he seems to believe in giving away power, the greatest and rarest quality in any politician.
The Thatcher government massively centralised education, contrary to true Conservative principles, and Gove seems to be reversing that through the free schools system.
But why not go one better and announce that, when he retires, he wants to abolish the entire Department for Education? Allow each parent a school voucher, set a standard, inflation-proof national exam, and let schools run as they like without interference.