I was extremely honoured to be a part of the LACA speaker line up (July 10 – 12th, Birmingham). My slot focused on how keeping the staff who look after our children healthy is the first stage of passing that message on to our children but change has to be about leadership and leading from the front. If the leaders of organisations take on a engage with Wellness and see the compelling difference this makes to their own lives, then that message can authentically filter down to the rest of the team. Healthy organisations means healthy profits and in this case healthy school meals. A more integrated approach to wellness means that our precious resource, the people in our organisations, are more engaged, energetic and enthusiastic about life. That’s got to be good for business.
How we educate our children will have a massive impact on how these children go on to develop into grown up, functioning adults in the work place once they leave school. The work that goes on in schools to get parents and children in schools to engage with delicious, nutritious food is nothing short of awe inspiring.
The high-light of the conference for me, (although the opening address by Gyles Brandreth was the funniest and warmest start the proceedings possible) was the work being done by The Charshalton Boys School and how food is turning round this formerly failing school. Situated in Europe’s biggest council estate, and with a pocket handkerchief amount of space for over a thousand boys, Head Master Simon Barber and and Vice Head Jenny Gaylor have turned the former playground into a small holding full of delicious veg – they even have chickens roaming around providing delicious eggs. In 2004 only 20% of children elected to have school meals – now 90% have school meals with a stunning turnaround in terms of exam results and behaviour. Boys love food! So Headmaster Simon makes sure that they are able to access healthy food at extremely competitive prices that make cheaper processed food look expensive by comparison. He makes sure that food is available from Breakfast (£1) – Lunch (of course) but also tea – the critical moment when school breaks up for the afternoon. The temptation for hungry boys to dive into the junk food is diverted into making food available and free for children who stay to complete homework or participate in clubs. It sees that the rewards from investing in this amazing and core principal that an army marches on its stomach is paying dividends.
On the day that Leon (Vincent and Dimbleby) comes to speak at the Conference and with the school meal agenda plastered over the news this morning, I was struck that one Headmistress featured on the news, obviously over whelmed with the demands of just getting the teaching done, seemed not to grasp fully, that when children have food that nurtures the mind, the teaching is so much easier. Is it the job of teachers to “feed” our children? Education in Greek means “to draw out” – doesn’t that mean that drawing out the best in our children means that we have to be creative on how that is done? Simon and his team at Charshalton Boys have a much more rewarding teaching job as a result of understanding the relationship between food and behaviour and that behaviour and improved results.
As I mentioned in my slot, its got to be about leadership. If the Head doesn’t “get” that the investment in food is critical, this amazing gift will be lost. Those kids who took a poor packed lunch into school, will become the adults who arrive in the workplace doing the same. They will be the adults who dont perform well, and prop their blood sugar levels up with tea, coffee, or in extreme cases, alcohol and drugs. Food plays a vital place in our energy levels, and even our sense of happiness (drops in blood sugar or disruption of brain chemicals can play havoc with mood). School Meals. Nice to have or have to have?