Hugh Reilly: Will Martha’s blog let the genie out?
ARGYLL and Bute Council’s cringeworthy volte-face over Martha Payne’s school dinner blog brought back memories of a mortifying, media-engineered u-turn by a headteacher of my acquaintance.
He was head of a Catholic school in Glasgow where children of asylum-seekers accounted for almost 10 per cent of the pupil roll. To mark the Muslim festival of Eid, a naïve supply teacher encouraged the international kids to make colourful religious posters.
Unfortunately, this fun-filled activity greatly upset the rector and his deputy. Together they entered the classroom and, in full view of the heartbroken children, took down the offending artwork.
When the temporary teacher objected, the rector curtly informed him that it was inappropriate to glorify an Islamic celebration in a denominational school.
Somewhat miffed, the supply teacher bravely put his job on the line by phoning the BBC. Within the hour, he was outside the school being interviewed on camera by a reporter. When word of the Beeb’s scoop reached the headmaster, he had a life changing choice to make; either take out his revolver from his desk drawer and take a self-selected early retirement package or call headquarters.
Thankfully, he did the latter. Embarrassed that Glasgow’s much heralded multiculturalism had been undermined by the headmaster’s dogmatic monoculturalistic outlook, the city’s PR team swung into action.
That lunchtime, the headteacher, clearly reacting to direction from above, granted the BBC a hastily convened audience to hear his on-screen act of contrition. In my view, retrieving the discarded Muslim posters from a recycling bin and tacking them on to his office walls was pure Goebellsesque.
Martha Payne’s internet updates on canteen fodder obviously caused a degree of discomfiture for those council officials responsible for providing school meals on a shoestring budget.
To be fair, other councils must be have been thinking “there but for the grace of God…”. In East Dunbartonshire schools, kids eat in Ed’s diner (ED – East Dunbartonshire, clever, eh?). It has a Happy Days feel to it: a Fonz-friendly fast food joint designed to appeal to young people.
Unwittingly, I trust, the diner offers an anorexic option, something of a niche market among the teenage demographic. According to my son, who was a pupil at one of the ED schools, he often queued, patiently only to discover that all the hot dinners had been sold.
Martha received support from the public as well as her local MSP, the Education Minister, Mike Russell. However, what if a teacher had written the blog? Most local authorities have a code of conduct that forbids teaching staff from criticising council policies and staff. A teacher would be disciplined for posting snaps of unappetising school meals.
Now that the genie is out the box, I expect other victims fed at the state’s expense to complain. For example, diners at Barlinnie’s bistro may feel emboldened to forward pictures of the premise’s tad limited menu.
Should that eventuality come to pass, I just hope the prison governor has made adequate contingency plans to thwart the mass break-in of hospital patients desperately seeking gastronomic delights.
Argyll and Bute Council claimed a desire to protect tearful dinner ladies was the reason for the original decision to stop the blog. I have to say that hiring such sensitive souls represents something of a shift in recruitment policy.
Back in the 1960s, the row of grim, square-jawed dinner “wummin” standing behind the counter gave credence to the rumour that the entire East German female shot-putting team had defected to the UK. Any child with the temerity to take snaps of stodge-filled plates ran the risk of being skelped by a ladle-wielding dinner lady.
Living next to a school, I am considering writing a blog to draw attention to the fact that my garden is perceived to be the ideal receptacle for takeaway packaging and plastic bottles. If Martha’s blog inspires more kids to eat inside a school dinner hall, it enjoys my support.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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