28 June 2002

STAFF AND PUPILS SAY BRING IT BACK

Pupils want milk at school – teachers are keen but confused about how school

milk is supplied, distributed and paid for, as Wendy Short reports from Yorkshire

BOTH teachers and pupils gave the thumbs up to bringing back milk at school breaktimes at the Primary Schools Countryside Day organised by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society last week.

But there was a lot of confusion over which children were eligible for subsidised school milk and how much it would cost.

School milk is free for nursery schoolchildren up to five and for primary schoolchildren whose parents receive state benefits, and EU subsidies are available for the provision of milk at school for children up to the age of 11. But for working parents with several children under the age of 11, even subsidised milk can prove too expensive, especially if they have to pay out at the beginning of term. And with subsidy dependent on the local authority and school heads taking it up, and different milk distribution schemes operating, it seems many teachers are unaware or uncertain of just what is available and at what cost.

Some teachers and helpers also perceive that administering the school milk scheme would add to their already heavy workload. Mum, Ruth Dobson, who helps out at Oatlands junior school in Harrogate is a dairy farmers daughter. She says she found it very time-consuming collecting money and organising free school milk for the infants. She suspects that it would be difficult to get enough volunteers to make the scheme work for older children. "It is hard work, but I would like to see milk being offered to junior schoolchildren," she said.

Headmaster Anthony Keane, from Hookstone primary school in Harrogate, was worried that offering milk only to children whose parents could afford it could create arguments and bullying. "I think it would be great if we could give the children a drink of milk mid-morning – we are being encouraged to promote a healthier diet," said Mr Keane.

"There is no doubt that milk is nutritious. But asking parents to contribute is out of the question. Not all of them could spare the money and it would be unfair to have to leave some children out."

Two of Mr Keanes pupils were also 100% behind the idea.

"Its healthy, its good for your teeth and its gorgeous," said 11-year-old Ashley Knapton-Smith.

Upton primary school head teacher, Paul Franklin, said he would like to see milk available for all 500 children at his school in Pontefract, West Yorkshire. The only constraint was the cost. But he questioned whether dairy farmers could produce enough if every school took up the challenge.

"I understood that UK milk producers had quota limits. If all the schools in the country decided they wanted milk, would this country be able to meet demand?

"I would definitely like to see school milk made available in my school. I dont think children drink enough liquids generally. They eat too many convenience foods and dont take enough exercise. And many spend too much time sitting at their computers or watching television. Physical education has also been sidelined in schools because of the emphasis on literacy and numeracy.

"This combination has resulted in a slowing down of the learning process and an increasing number of children are becoming obese. About 20% of children in my school need dental treatment – that seems a lot. Milk is full of calcium and it could bring real benefits."

Barbara Igoe, who also teaches at Upton school, added that some of her pupils regularly missed breakfast before coming to school, so a drink of milk would be very welcome. She was surprised how many children liked the taste. One of her pupils, Charlee Slater, agreed. "Drinking water at breaktime is not the same. Milk is much better than water and I drink it a lot at home."

A deputy head teacher from a school in Rotherham pointed out that she would hate to go without her mid-morning cup of coffee so she doesnt see why her pupils should miss out on a refreshing drink at break time. Janet Fern explained that the children at Maltby Craggs school bring in £1 a week to pay for their drinks.

"The uptake is fantastic," said Mrs Fern. "About 90% of mothers and fathers have joined the scheme. We do also offer fruit juice as an alternative, but most parents prefer their children to have milk."

Another head teacher, Mrs Ratcliffe, is keen to introduce milk to the tuck shop at Castle Junior school, Knaresborough. She visited the Milk Research Project* stand at the show and is being sent information to help her get a scheme started.

*The School Milk Research Project has facilitators who can visit schools interested in bringing back milk at breaktimes.

Contact 01252-875474.