About Me

My photo
‘Sir’ is a state school English teacher in a big city in the UK. Prior to this he worked with children with a variety of Special Educational Needs, particularly those with behavioural and social problems. His teaching has been rated as ´Outstanding´ by Ofsted which means he once did a great job for 50 minutes. Save for a light dusting of fiction in order to protect the innocent (and indeed the guilty) anything recounted here is absolutely true. Otherwise, there will be some exciting political debate where everything Sir thinks is also absolutely true. Twitter: @seekingsir

22 June 2010


In my days before teaching I was, as you can probably tell, a fairly saintly being. Bored with my job sticking price reduction stickers on apple-turnovers at Sainsbury’s bakery in the summer holidays (pre-Oliver), I was persuaded by a friend to do some work for a charity which, among other things, works with Social Services to run play-schemes during the school holidays for children with a wide range of disabilities, both physical and mental. It was this decision which eventually, apparently by means of some sort of invisible tractor-beam which targets only the most saintly yet undoubtedly masochistic members of society, led me to become a teacher.
It was also the first place where the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ took on some real meaning for me.

I was working with three intensely hyperactive children. Unfortunately, although lovely individuals, they were so wired that it was genuinely disabling them: they were not able even to watch a DVD without jumping up and running around the room whilst climbing on and over every available piece of furniture and/or person. Unsurprisingly, this penchant for energetic mania had meant that educating the children in a mainstream school had become impossible and all three children were now attending specialist schools.

If you were the caring parent (or at least, a half-decent one) of such children, one would think that you would do anything in your power to calm their behaviour and enable them to function and interact more productively with others. It certainly seemed that way when I had a chat with Mum as she dropped her children off one morning. She was clearly an intelligent and articulate woman and thanked me for all my hard work with her offspring. I replied that it had been a pleasure and that running around with her delightful brood all day was doing wonders to prevent me developing beer-induced muffin-tops. Later that day, I sat down with the children – or as near as they got to sitting down - for lunch.

The lunch boxes of all three children aged 6-8 contained the following:

1 sugar sandwich (with butter, white bread)
1 Dairy Milk mini chocolate bar
1 Mini Mars bar
1 500ml bottle of Coca-cola

They did not contain anything else (not that I can think of a single item of food that could ameliorate the damage done by this mixture). The children ate this packed lunch every day. The criminal absurdity of fuelling a hyperactive 6-year-old with about 20 teaspoons of sugar and half a litre of caffeine on a daily basis is mindboggling. It’s on a par with appointing Jeremy Clarkson as Campaigns Manager for Greenpeace.

If I ate this delectable meal as an average sized man in my 20s, I would undoubtedly have gone mental: my girlfriend bans me from having more than two coffees a day, such is the unpredictability of its effects (usually some kind of frenetic dancing and the slapping of my own head, followed by repeated Morph impressions until I collapse in a tremulous heap). So what is it likely to do to a six-year-old…!? Might it possibly send them hyperactive to the point that they can no longer cope with mainstream education? I am not qualified to comment but common sense tells us that such insane eating habits are surely less than beneficial.

Whilst this is an extreme case, we are confronted by less excessive versions of the same in the classroom environment. There are a significant number of children in most schools whose staple diet seems to consist almost entirely of digestive biscuits and take-away chicken, with a much larger number whose dietary habits still leave much to be desired. The effects that a poor diet has on behaviour and concentration are well documented. By failing to ensure that our children are adequately fuelled, we are effectively condemning their chances of educational success. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of these children are from decidedly less than affluent backgrounds and a number of them concomitantly suffer further from the ill-effects of dysfunctional family structures. As is often the case, when trying to change dietary culture, we find ourselves in the familiar situation of one problem compounding another until the whole thing appears as a great impenetrable mess.

But whilst deciding exactly what to do about our junk-munching kids is not simple, deciding what not to do surely is. Contrary to popular belief, the Darth Vader of children’s nutrition - the infamous ‘turkey twizzler’ - is not a dietary staple of Britain’s education system. Indeed, in the three schools I have worked in, school meals have been consistently excellent. In my current school, when certain dishes are on the menu, many pupils would happily sacrifice a limb to guarantee a place at the front of the lunch queue. Jerk chicken and vegetable pie seem to be favourite main courses, with apple crumble taking pride of place as most popular dessert. The first thing you don’t do, then, is anything to damage the vital Free School Meals scheme which provides thousands of children from the lowest income (and often most nutritionally ignorant) families with a filling, nutritious meal every day.

In a faraway land, our new coalition government - headed by our well nourished old-Etonian friend - is currently deliberating over scrapping this very same Free School Meals programme. Indeed, according to today’s press it seems the culinary cull has already begun. Plans have just been approved to axe free school meals for half a million of Britain’s poorest primary pupils.

‘Must Try harder’, Dave.


  1. But we all know the parents of these free school meals spend money on non nutrional muck, why does the taxpayer have to fund their fecklessness? Why? Money has been thrown at the 'poor and disadvantaged" and doesnt make a difference. The poorest today have much more than the poor of the 1950s and yet eat worse. This is a parental choice. It just is, and not something you can legislate for

  2. Universal Free school meals (FSMs) have rapidly boosted school lunch take-up: one month into operation, take-up was 86% in Durham and 75% in Newham, up from 49.5% and 45.2% respectively.

    2. There is a growing amount of qualitative evidence that universal FSMs are improving children’s wellbeing and educational attainment:

    Children are changing their eating habits, and eating healthy meals
    Staff have noted that children are much calmer and their concentration levels are higher
    Universality is promoting school cohesion, with lunchtimes now ‘a more sociable event’

    3.Universal FSMs achieve a sizeable efficiency saving. The same amount of public funding stretches 10% further under a universal regime than it does under means-testing, as a result of economies of scale.

    4. Universal FSMs are also having an economic impact in the wider community:

    The pilots are taking considerable pressure off families’ monthly food bills
    Increased demand for local catering services and producers is giving a much-needed boost to jobs
    Investment in new high-quality catering facilities has created a valuable institutional legacy

    5. In view of the measurable benefits that have already emerged from the two existing pilots, there is a strong case for extending universal FSM pilots to every interested local authority.

    Full report here: http://www.gmb.org.uk/PDF/Free%20School%20Meals%20Pilot%20interim%20report%20FINAL.pdf

    The idea that the poorest `eat worse´ today than the poor of the 1950s (I have no idea if this is true) may have more to do with the societal shortcoming in allowing the (junk) food industry enormous influence over dietary habits through the creation of an endless number of E-number filled ´snacks´ (many of which did not exist in the 1950s) and particulary through multi-billion pound advertising regimes which, perhaps, are most effective upon the least nutritionally informed members of society, than it does with poor parenting.

    For those parents who do insist, despite knowing better, to ´spend their money on non-nutritional muck´ we must answer your question as to ´why does the tax payer have to fund their fecklessness?´

    This is a somewhat bizarre leap of illogic: the tax payer, by ensuring the availabilty of FSMs, does quite the opposite. The existence of FSMs legislates against parents nutritional idiocy by ensuring that their children (who are not to blame for their parents´ foolish ways) are provided with a decent meal each day (rather than the digestives some parents would give them) which in turn has a significant effect upon their behaviour and concentration.

    Moreover, it exposes them to a more sensible diet and, believe it or not, encourages them to think about what they eat. This is how education works: we tell them good stuff, they listen, etc.

    Results are not instant but they are clearly demonstrable. Free School Meals is an area where, unlike countless others, I can say that my tax money is indeed ´money well spent.´