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The Core Curriculum: What Happened to the Apples?

Well, the old food in school debate was about as long as a meal at MacDonalds and repeated itself about as much!

Having agreed with the Treasury that the evidence that saw an improvement in achievement result from food in schools efforts was about as robust as filo pastry, John Key left the kitchen while the “never mind the quality feel the warmth” brigade marched on.

But the interesting development was the emergence of support for Treasury / John Key from an interesting group – Principals of low decile schools in the North.  This was interesting – the meals in schools push was supported very much by Hone Harawera and it raised the issue of whether he had talked with the school leaders in the rohe.  Also because some of the Principals didn’t really have a track record of supporting strongly, perhaps even at all, the current Government.

Their argument was built around the fact that disadvantage can and does take many different forms in their schools. They did not want resources to be tied to one kind of support (food) but rather be available for supporting students in many different ways – a pair of shoes, a jersey, a raincoat – and so on. Their argument made good sense to those of us who are working or have worked at that end of the system.

Not only were the Principals of the North not prepared to make any connection between a meal and school achievement, they were also not prepared to turn the argument into a tirade against anyone. Their cool reflection and sound reasoning was impressive

But the Labour spokeperson on education, Chris Hipkins, was not going to miss this party and he waded in with strong support for food and meals in schools etc etc. Again he missed the point – the argument was not about the goodness of food or even the value of eating but about the lack of or any clear evidence that providing food in schools led to a raise in achievement.

What had been missed in the Treasury advice was a clear and reasoned statement that there was no measurable or causal link between the provision of school meals and that of improvement in school achievement. They were not writing a book on good dietary habits, or the value of eating, or the overall health of the child. It was a simple statement presented without distraction on student achievement, what helps and what appears to have little effect.

One of the I-know-food-improves learning group wished that “John Key would drop his ideological stance but failed to notice the quasi-ideological fervor with which she put forward her view.

An anecdote. 

I frequently exercise the limbs with a serious walk around the many walking tracks in the city area in which I live. One of these walks takes me through the grounds of a high-decile primary school that is very well regarded by the community, has something of a special interest in the environment and seems to take part in the apples-in-schools scheme. They have little gardens planted with a great variety of veges and a worm farm.

This vermicultural activity is of some interest to me as indeed I have a little worm farm at home. This team helps me to save the planet and keep the waste disposal unit idle. They don’t do it by themselves, a couple of compost bins are also part of the green army.

Well, one day, on one of my walks I thought I would take a peek into the school’s worm farm and what did I see? The bin was half full of beautiful apples. Now that is taking the core curriculum a bit far I thought! Well perhaps not if you were a worm.

At last, a food in schools effort which would lead to an improvement. What would Treasury say about that?


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