Why were school dinners brought in?
Around the year 1900 there was a lot of concern about the physical state of the people of Britain. Even though there had been tremendous efforts in the late 19th century to provide better public health, housing and education, many children were still no more healthy than they had been back in the 1840s.
The new Liberal government elected in 1906 passed various measures to try to deal with this problem. They were particularly concerned to try to improve the health of children. They passed laws to ensure midwives were notified of each new-born baby, they introduced School Medical Examinations and, in 1906, they gave permission for schools to offer meals to their pupils. But what kind of meals?
These documents show how one city, Bradford, carried out an experiment to see how the system might operate.
- Make a summary of what the experiment involved. How many children? For how long? Which meals? etc.
- How were the children chosen? Why do you think they chose these children?
- Look at paragraph 3. 'Every effort was made to make the meals, as far as possible, educational.' What does 'educational' mean here? What was being taught? How did the children react?
- Why were the tablecloths dirty afterwards?
1. Read Source 1. This is an extract taken from City of Bradford Education Committee Report by the Medical Superintendent, Ralph H Crowley M.D., M.R.C.P. in conjunction with the Superintendent of Domestic Subjects, Marian E. Cuff, on a Course of Meals given to Necessitous Children from April to July, 1907.
- How did the children react to being offered porridge for breakfast - at first? After three days?
- How would you react to being offered porridge for breakfast?
- What problem was Miss Cuff trying to solve with her dinner menus?
- What criticism might be made of some of the recipes?
- How does the Report meet that criticism?
- What seems to be the attitude of Bradford Education Committee towards poor parents? Do you think this is fair?
2. Read Source 2. This is another extract from the same report about what food was provided.
- What effect did providing meals have on the weight of the children?
- What happened to their weights during the holidays?
- Why does the dotted line go up?
3. Read Source 3. This is a graph from the report showing how the weights of the children involved were affected.
- What does the photograph tell you about the kinds of children who took these breakfasts?
- One farthing was very little, even then. Why do you think the Salvation Army charged anything at all?
- Why did the government bring in school meals, rather than leaving it to charitable organisations like the Salvation Army?
4. Look at Source 4. These are children queuing for Salvation Army 'Farthing breakfasts'.
A farthing was a quarter of an old penny; there were 12 old pennies in a shilling. A shilling = 5p; an old penny = less than half of 1p; a farthing = one tenth of 1p.
- Miss Cuff has to give a short report to Bradford Education Committee about her 'experiment'. Note down the five key points you think she should make.
- Apart from the children putting on weight, what was the 'experiment' intended to teach - the children? Their parents?
- Is it the government's job to tell children what they should eat?
- What do you think school meals should be like?
6. For discussion
From 1907, when they began, school meals had to meet certain nutritional standards. These were abolished in 1981: kitchens could serve up what they liked provided it made money, children could buy what they liked. Recently, the government has become worried about child health issues such as malnutrition, but also obesity. Nutritional rules have been re-imposed.
Recently some schools have begun to offer breakfasts as well as dinners.
Why have they done this?
Do you think this is a good idea?