Dinner time, roll your sleeves up

Dinner time, roll your sleeves up

To hear that children attending Edgar Stammers Primary Academy in Walsall were forced to eat meals with their hands made my eyes roll.

The school banned knives and forks – and even plates – because of Covid and the fear of spreading the virus.

While it seems bizarre that staff couldn’t find a way of cleaning the cutlery, it does highlight a wider point.

And that is what primary schools are for. Certainly, they are for teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, introducing sports and music and putting the building blocks in place for children’s educational future.

But they should be doing more than that – and teaching how to eat correctly is one of them.

Good manners, basic hygiene, how to queue, politeness and eating properly are the building blocks of a child’s social future.

Like education, if they learn the skills when they are young, they will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

In some cultures around the world, people use their hands to eat all types of food and this is perfectly acceptable, but it is important that when children are in British schools they should follow the conventions of British culture.

We eat some things with our hands but asking children to use their hands to eat everything in school is plainly wrong and should not be happening. Especially when it includes mashed potato.

Serving children cold finger food at this time of the year would not be helpful either. This is winter time and children should be provided with a hot meal every day in school and they certainly can’t eat piping hot food with their hands and neither should they be asked to.

I also note that at Edgar Stammers Primary Academy the windows in classrooms are being opened and the children are cold.

I really think that a balance needs to be struck. We can’t have children who are freezing cold in the classrooms, who are then being asked to eat either stone-cold food or hot food with their hands.

For years there have been campaigns about healthy eating for children – not least the important interventions by Jamie Oliver that changed government policy on healthy diets for children in school.

This is why providing healthy, balanced and nutritious food for children is crucial.

Society has also become more aware of the numbers of children who are experiencing food poverty and are not eating healthily at home for all sorts of reasons. This has been exacerbated by the Coronavirus crisis.

Covid 19 should mean that schools should be taking even more care to ensure that children have hot nutritious food. No compromises should be made in this area of child health and wellbeing.

The government is providing money for free school meals for primary school children so this money should not be wasted on poorly thought out and compromise options.

Schools should find a way to provide the best and not the least bad option.

This can be done safely with thought and care.

And if they are eating hot school meals, the correct use of cutlery and table manners ought to be part of the whole package that is taught to them.