Everyone loves a success story, but one that involves healthy food, good nutrition and children was a sharing opportunity ANH-Intl couldn’t pass up! Armed with our cameras, video equipment and lots of questions, we visited a primary school in North London, UK to find out what they were doing that was so special. We’re delighted now to be able to share the Eagle Solutions/Chestnuts story with you via the interviews and footage we shot on the day. Treat yourself to some downtime, make a cup of tea (herbal if you like!) and take a look. We’re hoping you may want to share what you see with other parents and schools, not only in the UK, but in other countries and regions of the world.
The inspiration behind the programme is a ‘foodie of note’ who hails originally from Nigeria, Kemi Atijosan. It was her inability to accept the offerings to her own children that were passed off as ‘school dinners’ that acted as one of the key stimuli for her work. We believe Kemi’s school programmes also contributed to the inspiration behind Jamie Oliver’s ‘school meal’ campaign and subsequent TV series, in the UK and more recently the US.
We’re hoping that on digesting the content of this feature you might become one of the much-needed and inspired networkers who can help spread the word. The example of Chestnuts Primary school shows clearly that it’s a fallacy that the provision of good quality, organic, locally-produced, healthy, nutritious food is too expensive for the majority of schools and parents. As you’ll see it can actually be cost saving for the schools, as well as being immediately beneficial to the children and families.
How the programme started
Kemi Atijosan founder and managing director of Eagle Solutions was all too aware that here in the UK, we have at least a generation of parents who don't cook; many of which just don’t know how or appear not to have the time. Sadly this seems to be an increasing trend in contemporary, western society and not just a UK problem. Kemi is passionate about food, nutrition and children so it was a natural progression to bring her vision to fruition in the form of the Eagle Solutions consultancy. In a nutshell, Eagle Solutions sees the integration of healthy and nutritious school meals into the curriculum as an integral part of a child's education. Food should be as much a part of a child's education as reading, writing, computing skills and mathematics. At Eagle Solutions, they want to see better nutrition, better behaviour, happier kitchen staff, satisfied parents and a much greater school dinner uptake at all the schools they work with. As Kemi knows only too well, “whatever we do with the children inside the school can only succeed if parents are also involved and re-educated about how to cook and make good food cheaply and easily”. It’s a multidimensional strategy that’s paying dividends and proving highly successful.
Introducing Chestnuts Primary school
The school is situated in Haringey, North London and run by head teacher Cal Shaw. Its central theme is above all, the children. Since taking over as head teacher in 2006 Cal has pushed the school to take, what could be considered by some as, controversial steps to improve the whole experience of being a pupil.
Cal knows every single pupil in the school personally and is a very hands-on head teacher – she even serves the school meals daily! Her office is just off the main thoroughfare of the school and has a glass wall enabling the children to interact with her daily. She, along with the rest of the teaching staff, try, as much as possible, to involve the children in the school decision-making process. To listen to their creative ideas on making their time spent at school more enjoyable; encouraging innovation, problem-solving and the taking of responsibility.
Along with combining a very hands-on approach to the school management and classroom learning, head teacher, Cal Shaw, was also keen to look at the nutrition provided in their meals so was very open to Kemi’s approach when Eagle Solutions first made contact. Undeterred by the common myth that healthy food is more expensive, Cal, with Kemi and Eagle Solutions, began a complete overhaul of the catering offered by Chestnuts. Aware that this was a big undertaking and that there were hurdles to jump in terms of the local authority and external catering service, Cal was determined to make the necessary changes. The aim was to provide the children with more organic, locally sourced, freshly bought and freshly prepared food, with diverse menus based on the children’s favourites.
Today, Chestnuts serves around 40% organic food, and uses fresh, locally sourced food as much as it can. The school has re-taken control of the full catering service it offers from the external contractors, giving it absolute control over the ordering and the menu. Retaining this control has brought the cost of each school meal down from £2.32 (€2.76; $3.71) per meal charged by the external contractors to £1.90 (€2.26; $3.04) per meal. Not only is that a massive saving of 42 pence (€0.50; $0.67) per school meal, the saving allows children to consume food that is in a different nutritional realm.
Pupils at Chestnuts Primary School
The children are happier, healthier and more motivated. All the teachers report a change for the better in concentration, attention span and enthusiasm for learning. In 2009 the Government OFSTED inspection yielded an overall grading of Good, but with many areas of Outstanding. However, they were specially commended for their children-centred programme where the children are at the heart of every decision.
Negative behavioural incidents have fallen from multiple daily occurrences to around 2 in a year! The school council is very active and a driving force behind many of the decisions that affect the children, along with the parents who have become fully involved. So involved are the parents that a group of them are responsible for the school starting a boxed organic scheme in 2010, where the organic food is delivered to the school, divided into boxes and ready for collection when the parents come to collect their children. The parents benefit from the convenience, plus cost and time savings, and the school makes a small profit.
Everyone’s a winner! A true success story we think you’ll agree. We hope that Kemi’s programme from Eagle Solutions and the practical experience from Chestnuts can act as a template to bring change to schools the world over.