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Schools clamp down on second helpings

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clamp downMANY schools in Wales have clamped down on lunch second helpings for pupils in the fight against child obesity.

A BBC Wales survey has found a number of councils now leave the decision on extra servings to schools or caterers.

Powys bans pudding as seconds, Cardiff schools are urged to offer only extra bread, and Ceredigion extras are small, bringing complaints from hungry pupils.

But the Welsh government says it would never want children left hungry, and it will issue new guidance next year.School meal policy varies in many areas of Wales, and here are some examples.

Several areas, such as Bridgend, Neath Port Talbot, Pembrokeshire, Torfaen, Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham have no set policy on seconds, and leave the decision up to schools.

Most counties say all primary pupils get the same size portions, but some, Anglesey, Denbighshire and Ceredigion vary servings.

But Powys says primary pupils all pay the same and cooks cannot give “significantly bigger portions” to older ones. But they do get slightly more potatoes and vegetables.

BBC Wales asked education authorities about school meals, and 17 of the 22 responded. But while all said children are still allowed to ask for seconds, they may get a different response depending on where they live.

Powys Council says its cooks must use their “discretion” when offering extra food, and while its schools are allowed to serve any leftover vegetables and bread, puddings as seconds are off the menu. Powys also says catering managers advise cooks and rely on their “discretion and understanding.”

But some pupils and parents have complained about these restrictions, which follow the adoption of the Welsh government’s Appetite for Life programme, which aims to raise nutritional standards and help tackle childhood obesity.

There have also been complaints about the size of portions for primary school pupils. They have protested that 10-11-year-olds will need more food than a four-year-old.

Figures from earlier this year show more than 28% of five-year-olds in Wales are overweight, with 12.5% of children classed as obese. Wales has a bigger problem than either England or Scotland.

The standards have been in force in primary schools since September 2012, and were introduced across secondary schools at the start of this term.

When the Appetite for Life plan was launched in 2008 then Education Minister Jane Hutt said a balanced diet was essential for the young to become healthy adults.

It stipulates, for instance, that at least two portions of fruit and vegetables must be available each day, and that chips cannot be served more than twice a week.

Oily fish must be served at least twice a month, but food cooked in fat or oil cannot be given to pupils more than twice a week.

Schools are told that bread should be on offer, but best eaten without spread, salt must not be available, and any sauces like tomato ketchup, salad cream and mayonnaise must only be in 10ml portions.

Cakes and biscuits can only be served as part of lunch, and cannot be served at other times in the school day.

Any meals made from mechanically recovered meat cannot be served and fresh drinking water should be freely available.

Primary pupils should receive 530 calories per two-course meal, while children in secondary schools get 646 calories.

Education Minister Huw Lewis has echoed those words and wants “a large dose of common sense” to be used in interpreting the guidelines.

He told AMs last month the guidelines are flexible and “offer a proper nutritional balance for our young people, and that is something that we have been working towards for a long time, and now we have it. So, the guidelines matter but so does common sense”.

In response to BBC Wales’ findings, a Welsh government spokesperson said:

“We would never want to see children having school meals going hungry.

“We have provided schools with suggested portion sizes which cater for changing nutritional requirements as children get older. So, for example, a child in year 6 would have a larger portion than a child in reception.”

“Local authorities and many schools have worked hard over the years to improve the quality of food and drink provided in schools, in line with the Appetite for Life recommended standards.

“However, in the absence of legislation, there has been a variable rollout across schools. As a consequence, not all schools were achieving the recommended standards. The Healthy Eating in Schools Regulations now require compliance by schools; giving children and young people a healthy balance of food and drink throughout the entire school day.

“Statutory guidance on the Healthy Eating in Schools Regulations is currently being prepared and will be issued in the new year.”

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Appeal to get Pilgrim sculpture back on its feet nearing target

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The forlorn sculpture.

A FUNDRAISING appeal to raise £7,500 to re-erect a sculpture of a pilgrim on the hilltop above the ruins of the famous Strata Florida Abbey in the Cambrian Mountains is within £700 of hitting its target.

The Pilgrim, or Y Pererin in the Welsh language, was created by artist Glenn Morris and erected on Penlan, the hill overlooking Strata Florida Abbey, near Pontrhydfendigaid, in 2012.

Sadly, the sculpture collapsed in high winds in 2019 and now lays forlorn on the hilltop, located between Devil’s Bridge and Tregaron.

This sculpture, created as part of a temporary exhibition, has become a popular and iconic part of the Welsh landscape, with strong connections to Welsh culture, language and identity.

Following its collapse, the sculpture is now missing from the skyline of Strata Florida and the fundraising appeal aims to rebuild a new stronger, permanent Pilgrim to stand the tests of time.

The Pilgrim/ Y Pererin sculpture before it collapsed.

Planning permission for the new sculpture has already been secured and Glenn Morris is eager to begin the project.

The World Monuments Fund has offered to provide match funding if the community raises £7,500 by February 3. Anyone wishing to contribute to the fundraising target can donate online at https://localgiving.org/appeal/pilgrim/ .

An extra fundraising event for the Pilgrim appeal is being held on February 18. A 3.5 mile walk along a mixture of logging roads, farmlands and through ancient forest to reach the 12th century Cistercian abbey ruins of Strata Florida will be followed by a guided exhibition tour and Welsh tea.

This pilgrimage will be led by Guided Pilgrimage, a not-for-profit company providing a range of Celtic pilgrimage experiences in West Wales.

Strata Florida was a thriving community 900 years ago. Today, the conserved ruins of the old abbey church and part of the cloisters are in the care of Cadw, the Welsh Government’s heritage agency, and can be visited by the public from Easter to late autumn.

The remains are only a small fraction of what was once a much larger abbey, stretching over an area of 126 acres where the rest survives below ground as a well-preserved archaeology.

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Denial of Wales-specific Covid inquiry ‘no longer tenable’ say Welsh Conservatives

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THE WELSH CONSERVATIVES have reiterated their call for an inquiry that focuses exclusively on the actions of the Welsh Government in tackling coronavirus in a letter to the First Minister.

It was prompted after it was revealed that the Welsh Government have been aware that NHS Wales was not prepared for an airborne virus as far back as 2004, following the SARS outbreak. Despite committing to an audit and allocation to rectify the lack of isolation facilities, this did not materialise.

The letter from Andrew RT Davies MS, which states “decision made in Wales should be scrutinised in Wales” follows a weekend when Mark Drakeford was keen to highlight that his government had “always taken a different approach in Wales [compared to the British Government], one that does things step-by-step”.

Concerned: Andrew RT Davies

In the letter, the Welsh Conservatives leader questions why, despite him stressing divergences in the approach to coronavirus, the First Minister still feels it “inappropriate to separate” from the British Government “when the time comes for accountability”.

The Labour Government policy is for its actions to be included in the UK-wide inquiry that will chiefly investigate the actions of the Conservative Government. There will be a Scotland-specific inquiry after Nicola Sturgeon commissioned one.

Joining the Welsh Conservatives in their calls for a Wales-specific inquiry are the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Group, the British Lung Foundation, Medics 4 Mask Up Wales, the Institute for Welsh Affairs, and Plaid Cymru.

Commenting on the letter, Andrew RT Davies MS said: “The position of exercising wide-ranging emergency powers that curtailed the liberty and closed the economy of the Welsh people but avoiding accountability through an inquiry that focusses on how those decisions were made is no longer tenable.

“Under Mark Drakeford, Wales has experienced the highest Covid death-rate of UK nations, seen its children lose more time for learning than anywhere else in the country, and imposed economically cruel and clinically unnecessary restrictions in an overzealous attempt to tackle the Omicron variant.

“We, along with bereaved families and medical groups, believe that the decisions that led to these outcomes need to be put under the spotlight, not hidden in the shadow of an inquiry that will inevitably focus on the British Government.

“Indeed, if Mark Drakeford is so confident in the actions of his government, then why is he against having them examined in a Wales-specific inquiry? That is what people will be asking when British and Scottish leaders have ordered investigations into their own handling of the pandemic.

“As I say to the First Minister in my letter, it is not too late for him to change his mind and take this opportunity to do the right thing and order that inquiry.”

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Ceredigion MP supports calls on UK government to address energy crisis

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BEN LAKE MP, Co-chair of the APPG on Fuel Poverty and Energy Efficiency, has signed a cross-party letter to the UK Government calling for a range of financial support measures to address the current energy crisis. 

Following a record increase in October 2021 to the price cap, energy bills are set to increase again significantly in April across the UK, and could reach as high as £2000 for the average household, an increase of £700 compared to today’s prices.  Experts have also said that these prices are likely to be sustained for two or more years. 

Polling conducted by YouGov has shown that 6 out of 10 British households say they would reduce their heating use by a fair amount/great deal if the cost of heating doubles. 

Ben Lake MP said: “The hike will be a disaster for those who were already struggling to pay their bills and could leave over 6 million households in fuel poverty across the UK. These price increases will impact all households. But for those who were already struggling to pay their bills, it will be catastrophic. Without any additional support, millions will sink further into debt, and many will turn off the heating, leaving them at acute risk of serious ill-health and putting further strain on our stretched health services.” 

The cross-party letter calls on the UK Government to ensure that any support package to address the crisis works in the best interests of fuel poor households, for example, by increasing the support available through existing schemes such as such as the winter fuel support scheme in Wales or an additional targeted rebate which could be delivered this winter.  

The letter also adds “that any effort to reduce energy bills should not include the removal of green levies.”  

Ben Lake MP added: “While there are arguments about whether green levies should remain on energy bills or be added instead to income tax, there is no justification for removing them completely. To do so would be to compound the gas crisis which we face by exacerbating fuel poverty and further delaying the transition away from fossil fuels. 

“I will continue to work alongside colleagues to ensure the most vulnerable households are protected as far as possible from the current threat of significantly increased domestic energy bills.” 

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