Safer Internet Day

Today, throughout Europe, it is Internet Safety Day.

This annual event aims to promote the safer and more responsible use of Internet technologies.  Concerns over the safety of young people using the Internet has followed a number of cases where the Internet, including social networking sites have been used by abusers to ‘groom’ children and young people.   Safety campaigns have sought to find ways of protecting children and young people from adults who would do them harm.   However, as this year’s theme ‘Think Before you Post’ suggests, it is equally as important to equip young children with skills to protect themselves while using the Internet.  This also suggests that individual responsibility for your personal information is being promoted.

Safer Internet Day

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Free School Meals

Recently the DCSF has announced plans to extend free school meal provision in primary schools in England.  Local Education Authorities will be able to apply to the DCSF to fund the provision of free school meals in primary schools, in a series of pilots designed to assist the collection of research evidence on the relationship between school meals and health and educational performance.

This latest announcement follows on from pilots in three LEAs; Durham and Newham which are piloting the provision of free school meals for all primary school children; and Wolverhampton which is trialling extended eligibility for free school meals.

On making this announcement, Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, said:

“We know good health is vital if children are going to enjoy their childhood and achieve their full potential.  Eating a nutritious meal at lunchtime from a young age can make eating well a healthy habit for life.”

So, this announcement appears to mark a positive and welcome move.  It demonstrates concern with social welfare and minimising the effects of poverty, with the school as a means of compensating for society.  It signals an attempt to provide all children with a level playing field, so that at least children will be nourished in school even if they don’t get this at home.

It could almost be seen as radical, a move towards accepting a collective responsibility for children’s welfare, and a recognition that this is important for the health and well being of all children.

Except, providing free school meals isn’t new.  Back in the nineteenth century, even before schooling was finally made free and compulsory, Manchester provided free school meals for its poor children.

In the twentieth century, free school meal provision was extended, and free milk was provided for all children in the 1920’s.

Under the 1944 Education Act, Local Authorities were required to provide school meals to all who wanted them, and by 1947, following the election of a Labour Goverment, the full cost of providing school meals was met by the Government.  Two years later, a nominal fee was introduced for those not entitled to free meals.  By 1977, over 61% of pupils had a school meal (in fact the numbers had been declining).

The decline in school meals came with the election of a Conservative Government in 1979.   School meals were identified as one area to bear the brunt in cuts in public spending.  The 1980 Education Act, introduced by the Conservatives allowed Local Authorities to scrap the school meals service altogether.  The only provision was a basic service to children whose parents received certain benefits.

Under this Act, in the context of ‘rolling back the state’, the nutritional standards for school meals were also scrapped,  (school meals no longer needed to be wholesome and nutritious…in case you were wondering why Turkey Twizzlers were ever allowed on school premises).

In 1986, changes in benefit rules meant that children whose parents received family credit now had the price of a school meal included in their benefit.  Again, see this in a context of freedom of choice.  The state was not going to ensure that children, particularly those from poor homes were fed well at school.  Parents did not have to use this money to feed their children.

By 1995 then, the numbers of children taking free school meals had dropped to 45%.

The Labour Government  (not Jamie Oliver) reinstated nutritional standards in 2001.

Now, we continue to read about school meals, junk food in schools, and unhealthy packed lunches.  See the Guardian’s section on School Meals for more news coverage.

So, the move to provide children with a nutritious meal in school isn’t new, it is a sign of a civilised society. Yes there is more to do, but decent school meals don’t just happen, like the destruction of the School Meal service and the scrapping of nutritional standards didn’t just happen in 80’s.

CPAG has a fact sheet on School Meals available here.

Save our School Buildings

Last week, English Heritage called for more old school buildings to be saved from demolition.  Instead of choosing such a final act, which, they claim destroys the fabric of history; more effort should be put into refurbishment.  Refurbishment of old school buildings can, they claim ensure the building meets the needs of a contemporary schooling system.

The demolition of old buildings can provoke strong emotional reactions, and the desire to preserve the past can be seen in numerous popular discourses.  Consider the popularity of TV programmes such as BBC TV’s Who do you think you are? or Restoration.  The past is important for our economy, maintaining a tourist industry with the Heritage Industry replacing industry, which, still essential to our economy is done cheaper, and in some senses, more efficiently elsewhere, particularly where the labour is cheaper.

Experiencing the past (which we cannot do, of course) becomes attractive.  When Jorvik, which told the story of Viking York opened, it offered the opportunity to experience the sights, sounds and smells of Viking York (from the comfort of a customer train with integral audio commentary).  English Heritage actively encourage an experience of the past, from their Discovery Days, and their Time Travellers scheme for children. School days of the past can be recreated at Beamish, an open air museum which celebrates the everyday life of people from the North East of England.  Of course, recreated in this sense cannot be achieved, for example we no longer permit corporal punishment, and we no longer sent children down mines or up chimneys.    In official, or Government discourses history is recognised through listed buildings or preservation areas which limit the amount of new development that can take place, in an effort to preserve our cultural heritage. Blue Plaques appear on buildings where a famous person history lived or worked, or briefly visited. Political parties vie with one another to ensure that history is included on the national curriculum.  Studying history thus becomes an important means of learning what it is to be British.   

So, history is something which is something to be preserved.  This is desired by the public and sanctioned by the Government and its agencies.

However, in terms of public services and in particular education modernisation and the future are on the agenda.  In terms of buildings, one of the boasts of the current Government is the number of school buildings that have been built or refurbished.  Building Schools for the Future (BSF) for example, is a UK Government policy agenda which is focused on the rebuilding of schools to make them fit for purpose in contemporary society.  The argument is simple; schools should be designed with the future in mind.  Thus, schools built in the Victorian days may have been appropriate for an industrial society where most children (working class children at least) left school to work in factories, or, for the girls work in service. The design of school buildings has changed over time, the modernist influences can be seen in many schools built in the 1970’s. 

So, is the plea from English Heritage a reflection of sentimentality and a desire to preserve in aspic the educational architecture of yesteryear?

It would be if they really did want to preserve old school buildings in their original state.  But they don’t.

The architecture of schools is important, those buildings reflect the educational ideologies of the periods in which they were built.  The large airy rooms of Victorian school buildings, Grammar schools emulating the traditional Universities, the functional buildings of the 1970’s, and child centred, open planned classrooms.  Ideologies change, the way we educate changes, the reason for educating changes,and so with it do buildings.

In itself this could be used as an argument for demolition and rebuilding with new contemporary fit for purpose designs.  However old school buildings are important for reminding us about the purposes of education and if we simply pulled them down to replace them with something else what would this say about our historical perspective on education?  The incorporation of old school buildings into contemporary education  may well be important for retaining our understanding of the importance of education in our society.  As a survey carried out by English Heritage discovered old school buildings were felt to give the locality an identity.  Certainly, schools don’t ‘drop from the sky’ but are rooted in a social context and perhaps some degree of preservation while refurbishing to meet the needs of contemporary society might help preserve not just the building but a sense of identity.