Andrew Allison is head of campaigns at the Freedom Association.
In the House of Lords this week, Lord Nash, an education minister, said that “there is nothing to prevent schools from having a policy of inspecting lunch boxes for food items that are prohibited under their school food policies. A member of staff may confiscate, keep or destroy such items found as a result of the search if it is reasonable to do so in the circumstances.”
The comment was in response to a parliamentary question, and follows on from the story that food was confiscated from children’s lunch boxes at a school in Colchester. So why do schools feel that they have the right to behave in this way, and why is the Government endorsing it?
About seven years ago I briefly served as a school governor. It was not a happy time. I am pretty sure I was, politically, the only “right of centre” governor, and because I had been ill and hadn’t attended a meeting in six months, I was summarily fired, and not one governor, or the headteacher, bothered to find out why.
I was quite relieved, though, as meetings were the biggest rubber stamping exercise you could imagine. With so many laws, rules, and regulations surrounding schools, there is very little governors can actually achieve. It seems to me that they are only there to ultimately carry the can when something goes badly wrong.
After an Ofsted report, the school had been marked down because although pupils were taught healthy eating and understood its benefits, many of the children opted for the less wholesome option of visiting local takeaways and bakeries. In other words, they preferred the local chippy, and really enjoyed eating pies and sausage rolls.
Hardly a surprise – it’s what kids do. But surely that is the responsibility of parents, and not the school? I would agree, as I think the majority of people do, but because schools are desperate to get the best Ofsted report they can, they also have to kowtow to every diktat Ofsted places on them.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the primary purpose of any minister is to defend civil servants and Quangos. Lord Nash certainly doesn’t think there is anything wrong with schools rummaging through lunch boxes provided by parents and making decisions on what and what not children can eat.
It does make me wonder where this policy’s logical conclusion lies. If the state can overrule parents during the school day, why can’t it decide what a child eats at other times too?
Don’t think this is a flight of fancy. In Scotland, the state now appoints a “Named Person” for every child, from their birth until their eighteenth birthday. These are the five questions a Named Person (a state-appointed professional) needs to ask when deciding on the wellbeing of the child they are “responsible” for:
- What is getting in the way of this child or young person’s wellbeing?
- Do I have all the information I need to help this child or young person?
- What can I do now to help this child or young person?
- What can my agency do to help this child or young person?
- What additional help – if any – may be needed from others?
So if the state-appointed professional thinks that the child isn’t eating the food they think they should be eating, what happens next? Well, the “Named Person” can discuss this with the child without their parents consent.
In other words, behind their back. And as they are state-appointed, you can bet your bottom dollar that every agency of the state will know what’s going on if the “Named Person” sees fit.
I can’t imagine that Lord Nash approves of the “Named Person” scheme. I imagine he fundamentally opposes it. But by supporting teachers who routinely rummage through children’s lunch boxes because Ofsted insists that children must eat healthy food whilst at school (and that’s what schools decide is healthy), he is endorsing a policy that removes the responsibility of parenting from parents.
It is a slippery slope, and the Government should think long and hard about its position. I can’t imagine David Cameron approving of a teacher rummaging through one of his children’s lunch boxes, and nor do the rest of us.