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Nine-year-old school dinner blogger gagged
15 Jun 2012
BY ALICE PURKISS

UPDATE 1.35pm : Argyll & Bute Council have lifted the ban on Martha Payne’s school dinner photography.

Photographs included in the blog of a primary school student’s school dinners have been banned by her local council.

Martha Payne, from Argyll in Scotland, started her blog Never Seconds, “one primary school pupil’s daily dose of school dinners”, to document the food served at her school, and rate them with marks out of ten.

In a blog post entitled “Goodbye” yesterday evening, Martha, known as Veg, explained how she had been taken out of her maths class by the head teacher, and told that she could not take any more photos of her dinners after a headline in a newspaper.

Since she began blogging Martha has used her blog to raise money for charity Mary’s Meals, who set up school feeding projects in communities struck by poverty. The young blogger asked readers to join her “in helping give lunch to children that really need it.”

Martha explained that she was sad that she would no longer be able to take pictures, and receive pictures from followers, and added “I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either.”

Prior to the final post on her blog, which had been backed by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, Martha had blogged daily, detailing what she had eaten, and marking her lunches in categories including “number of mouthfuls”, “health rating” and “pieces of hair”. In response, users from around the world shared images of their school lunches, which Martha also published on the blog.

The young journalist and activist’s father took to the blog to provide readers with a little more detail on the day’s developments. He wrote:

“Martha’s school have been brilliant and supportive from the beginning and I’d like to thank them all. I contacted Argyll and Bute Council when Martha told me what happened at school today and they told me it was their decision to ban Martha’s photography.”

It is a shame that a blog that today went through 2 million hits, which has inspired debates at home and abroad and raised nearly £2000 for charity is forced to end.”

Photographer Paul Clarke questioned what issues the council may have been troubled by, adding:

“If I may, I’ll just park the “obvious” one – that they don’t want to be criticised publicly. The relevant issues to my mind are some old favourites in relation to images and technology: place, control, liability and of course precedent.”

Since posting her Goodbye, interest in the blog has spiked, with 425 people commenting on her post, and a massive increase in donations to her JustGiving page. At the time of posting, the activist’s Just Giving page had shot up to a massive £10,819.70 in donations.

One photo published on the blog showed an “alright” pizza, while another blog post added “the good thing about this blog is Dad understands why I am hungry when I get home.”

Argyll and Bute Council have confirmed that they have asked the schoolgirl to stop taking photographs of her lunches. A strongly worded statement released today said:

“Argyll and Bute Council wholly refutes the unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service which culminated in national press headlines which have led catering staff to fear for their jobs.

“The Council has directly avoided any criticism of anyone involved in the ‘never seconds’ blog for obvious reasons despite a strongly held view that the information presented in it misrepresented the options and choices available to pupils however this escalation means we had to act to protect staff from the distress and harm it was causing. In particular, the photographic images uploaded appear to only represent a fraction of the choices available to pupils, so a decision has been made by the council to stop photos being taken in the school canteen.

“There have been discussions between senior council staff and Martha’s father however, despite an acknowledgement that the media coverage has produced these unwarranted attacks, he intimated that he would continue with the blog.

Twitter users have taken to the microblogging site in support of the blog. Jamie Oliver tweeted:

Conservative MP Louise Mensch tweeted:

while Daily Telegraph Editor Tony Gallagher dubbed Argyll and Bute “the most stupid council in Britain” and described the decision as “the daftest own goal in a long time.” #Neverseconds was also trending on Twitter before 10am.

Councillor Mike Harris, also Head of Advocacy at Index on Censorship said:

“Councils often seem to forget they have the duty to protect freedom speech. When you get absurd cases like this, or the example of South Tyneside Council suing one of its councillors for libel, it shows that local government isn’t up to speed on its legal obligation to protect and promote free speech.”

As the website’s stats hit 2382060, and continue ticking over, it seems Argyll and Bute Council have created themselves a bigger PR disaster than an innocent blog from a young girl ever would have. Food for thought, if nothing else.

34 responses to “Nine-year-old school dinner blogger gagged”

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  18. It is Sad that the good intentions are sabotaged and ill-treated. This is a reason for which it is necessary to defend our rights and to fight for the good of these persons. In this planet the good acts are small and the bad intentions remain. They must continue with the autonomy of the blog and offer to them the necessary support. I belong to those that there supports the good feeding and the importance of feeding those who more need it!

    Rafael Rivas!

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  29. Here’s a version of the original statement – I believe it to be correct:

    Argyll and Bute Council wholly refutes the unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service which culminated in national press headlines which have led catering staff to fear for their jobs. The Council has directly avoided any criticism of anyone involved in the ‘never seconds’ blog for obvious reasons despite a strongly held view that the information presented in it misrepresented the options and choices available to pupils however this escalation means we had to act to protect staff from the distress and harm it was causing. In particular, the photographic images uploaded appear to only represent a fraction of the choices available to pupils, so a decision has been made by the council to stop photos being taken in the school canteen.

    There have been discussions between senior council staff and Martha’s father however, despite an acknowledgement that the media coverage has produced these unwarranted attacks, he intimated that he would continue with the blog.

    The council has had no complaints for the last two years about the quality of school meals other than one from the Payne family received on 6 June and there have been no changes to the service on offer since the introduction of the blog.

    Pupils have a daily choice of two meals from a menu which is designed with pupils, parents and teachers. Our summer menu is about to be launched and includes main course choices like meat or vegetarian lasagne served with carrots and garlic bread or chicken pie with puff pastry, mashed potato and mixed vegetables.

    Pupils can choose from at least two meals every day. They pay £2 for two courses and this could be a starter and a main or a main and a desert. Each meal comes with milk or water. Pupils can have as much salad and bread as they want. Salad, vegetables, fruit, yoghurt and cheese options are available every day. These are standing options and are not a result of any changes in response to the blog site.

    As part of the curriculum for excellence, pupils in all our schools are regularly taught about healthy eating and at lunch breaks staff encourage pupils to make good choices from what is on offer. We use a system called ‘Nutmeg’ to make sure everything is nutritionally balanced. Our staff also get nutrition awareness training so they know how to provide a good healthy meal. There is portion sized guidance which we adhere to and it is matched to the age of the child so they get the right amount of food. Second portions would mean too many calories for pupils.

    In Lochgilphead Primary School we are piloting a new pre-ordering scheme which is designed to encourage class discussion around meal choices and also improves the accuracy of meal choices. The pupils use a touch screen to select their lunch option and the data is downloaded in the kitchen so they know how many portions of each meal are required. As they place their order, the pupils are given a coloured band which relates to their meal choice that day. They wear it during the morning, and at lunchtime they hand it to the catering assistant, who will give them the corresponding meal.

    The council’s focus is now on supporting the school in the education of young people in Argyll and Bute.”

  30. Here’s a version of the original statement – I believe it to be correct:

    Argyll and Bute Council wholly refutes the unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service which culminated in national press headlines which have led catering staff to fear for their jobs. The Council has directly avoided any criticism of anyone involved in the ‘never seconds’ blog for obvious reasons despite a strongly held view that the information presented in it misrepresented the options and choices available to pupils however this escalation means we had to act to protect staff from the distress and harm it was causing. In particular, the photographic images uploaded appear to only represent a fraction of the choices available to pupils, so a decision has been made by the council to stop photos being taken in the school canteen.

    There have been discussions between senior council staff and Martha’s father however, despite an acknowledgement that the media coverage has produced these unwarranted attacks, he intimated that he would continue with the blog.

    The council has had no complaints for the last two years about the quality of school meals other than one from the Payne family received on 6 June and there have been no changes to the service on offer since the introduction of the blog.

    Pupils have a daily choice of two meals from a menu which is designed with pupils, parents and teachers. Our summer menu is about to be launched and includes main course choices like meat or vegetarian lasagne served with carrots and garlic bread or chicken pie with puff pastry, mashed potato and mixed vegetables.

    Pupils can choose from at least two meals every day. They pay £2 for two courses and this could be a starter and a main or a main and a desert. Each meal comes with milk or water. Pupils can have as much salad and bread as they want. Salad, vegetables, fruit, yoghurt and cheese options are available every day. These are standing options and are not a result of any changes in response to the blog site.

    As part of the curriculum for excellence, pupils in all our schools are regularly taught about healthy eating and at lunch breaks staff encourage pupils to make good choices from what is on offer. We use a system called ‘Nutmeg’ to make sure everything is nutritionally balanced. Our staff also get nutrition awareness training so they know how to provide a good healthy meal. There is portion sized guidance which we adhere to and it is matched to the age of the child so they get the right amount of food. Second portions would mean too many calories for pupils.

    In Lochgilphead Primary School we are piloting a new pre-ordering scheme which is designed to encourage class discussion around meal choices and also improves the accuracy of meal choices. The pupils use a touch screen to select their lunch option and the data is downloaded in the kitchen so they know how many portions of each meal are required. As they place their order, the pupils are given a coloured band which relates to their meal choice that day. They wear it during the morning, and at lunchtime they hand it to the catering assistant, who will give them the corresponding meal.

    The council’s focus is now on supporting the school in the education of young people in Argyll and Bute.”

  31. Argyll & Bute have taken down their original statement.

    In case they take down the one that is now at http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/news/2012/jun/statement-school-meals-argyll-and-bute-council, it now reads as below. Do you have a copy of the original that you can post?

    The current version reads:

    Statement on school meals from Argyll and Bute Council
    Published Date: 15 Jun 2012 – 10:53
    Updated: 14:19 – 15 June 2012

    Statement from Cllr Roddy McCuish, Leader of Argyll and Bute Council

    “There is no place for censorship in this Council and never will be whilst I am leader. I have advised senior officers that this Administration intends to clarify the Council’s policy position in regard to taking photos in schools. I have therefore requested senior officials to consider immediately withdrawing the ban on pictures from the school dining hall until a report can be considered by Elected Members. This will allow the continuation of the “Neverseconds” blog written by an enterprising and imaginative pupil, Martha Payne which has also raised lots of money for charity.

    But we all must also accept that there is absolutely no place for the type of inaccurate and abusive attack on our catering and dining hall staff, such as we saw in one newspaper yesterday which considerably inflamed the situation. That, of course, was not the fault of the blog, but of the paper.

    We need to find a united way forward so I am going to bring together our catering staff, the pupils, councillors and council officials – to ensure that the council continues to provide healthy, nutrious and attractive school meals. That “School Meals Summit” will take place later this summer.

    I will also meet Martha and her father as soon as I can, along with our lead councillor on Education, Michael Breslin to seek her continued engagement, along with lots of other pupils, in helping the council to get this issue right. By so doing Martha Payne and her friends will have had a strong and lasting influence not just on school meals, but on the whole of Argyll & Bute.”

    This statement supersedes all other council statements on the matter already issued.

  32. Argyll & Bute have taken down their original statement.

    In case they take down the one that is now at http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/news/2012/jun/statement-school-meals-argyll-and-bute-council, it now reads as below. Do you have a copy of the original that you can post?

    The current version reads:

    Statement on school meals from Argyll and Bute Council
    Published Date: 15 Jun 2012 – 10:53
    Updated: 14:19 – 15 June 2012

    Statement from Cllr Roddy McCuish, Leader of Argyll and Bute Council

    “There is no place for censorship in this Council and never will be whilst I am leader. I have advised senior officers that this Administration intends to clarify the Council’s policy position in regard to taking photos in schools. I have therefore requested senior officials to consider immediately withdrawing the ban on pictures from the school dining hall until a report can be considered by Elected Members. This will allow the continuation of the “Neverseconds” blog written by an enterprising and imaginative pupil, Martha Payne which has also raised lots of money for charity.

    But we all must also accept that there is absolutely no place for the type of inaccurate and abusive attack on our catering and dining hall staff, such as we saw in one newspaper yesterday which considerably inflamed the situation. That, of course, was not the fault of the blog, but of the paper.

    We need to find a united way forward so I am going to bring together our catering staff, the pupils, councillors and council officials – to ensure that the council continues to provide healthy, nutrious and attractive school meals. That “School Meals Summit” will take place later this summer.

    I will also meet Martha and her father as soon as I can, along with our lead councillor on Education, Michael Breslin to seek her continued engagement, along with lots of other pupils, in helping the council to get this issue right. By so doing Martha Payne and her friends will have had a strong and lasting influence not just on school meals, but on the whole of Argyll & Bute.”

    This statement supersedes all other council statements on the matter already issued.

  33. David Bailey says:

    The role of government is to crush independent thought, stifle initiative, and instil unwavering loyalty through fear and intimidation.

    Isn’t it?

  34. David Bailey says:

    The role of government is to crush independent thought, stifle initiative, and instil unwavering loyalty through fear and intimidation.

    Isn’t it?