Local council silences 9 year old food blogger

Local council silences 9 year old food blogger

Summary: Citizen journalism isn't necessarily limited to adults. What happens when a young child exposes the quality of school lunches online?

TOPICS: IT Employment

A nine year old school girl from the UK has been forced to close down her popular blog due to a local council's intervention.

A student from West Scotland, Martha Payne, aka "VEG", ran a blog that documented her school meals with a commentary in May this year. The blog, titled "Never Seconds", quickly became a popular hotspot for debate and review of the school's food and what is on offer for school children in general.

Racing past the two million page view mark, what probably started as a pet project went viral, and even became popular globally -- Martha receiving images of alternative school dinners from fans as far away as Taiwan.

The posted images of school means and commentary included a rating system:

Food-o-meter- Out of 10 a rank of how great my lunch was! Mouthfuls- How else can we judge portion size! Courses- Starter/main or main/dessert Health Rating- Out of 10, can healthy foods top the food-o-meter? Price- Currently £2 I think, its all done on a cashless catering card Pieces of hair- It wont happen, will it?

If you follow the progress of the blog, it does seem that the school was tracking the media and online community attention. Originally, her school lunches were like this:

Then things changed, as one entry shows:

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Today was very different at lunchtime. Dad had already told me beforehand that some people from the Council were coming to lunch with a reporter from our local paper. There was also a new system for ordering food which I'll explain when I understand it more. I didn't see the visitors having lunch but I saw them hovering about and watching us getting served.

The attention of the media and an online hit later, the council swoops in. Taken out of class by her head teacher, Martha was told she was now banned from taking photos because of a published newspaper story about the blog. In her goodbye entry she writes:

I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too. I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either.

Adding context to the ban, her father Dave also continued the entry:

I felt it's important to add a few bits of info to the blog tonight. 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.

The council may have had their way, but there is a silver lining.

Once the site became popular, Martha and her father used the attention to ask for donations to a charity for school food in Africa. At the time of writing, even though the closing statement on the blog doubted they would reach their target, the original £7,000 donation has been surpassed and reached £8,119.40.

Apart from this achievement, the online attention also kicked the school into offering free salad, fruit and bread.

Considering the poor quality of the meals when the blog began -- and how much they coincidentally improved in such a short space of time -- local authorities had the right to be worried. It seems that our tech-savvy younger generation and enthusiastic parents could expose just what goes on in some schools, but shutting down the project will only result in even more questions being asked.

Exposure, panic, shut it down. If television shows about school meals and vague promises of improvement don't work, why don't we all give our kids a camera?

Update 1 (13:30 BST): Argyll and Bute Council has issued a statement in relation to the blog. It reads (emphasis mine, of course):

"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."

Update 2 (14:32 BST): After two hours, the hashtag #neverseconds began trending on Twitter, and Martha's charity campaign reached the £18,000 milestone. The council reversed their decision live on BBC Radio.

Topic: IT Employment

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  • Just Like the Education Bureaucracy

    Stifle free speech, protect entrenched incompetence, prevent tax payers from knowing just how badly their money is being wasted. Just the sort of people we want in charge of teaching our children.
    • What's odd...

      What's odd is that the meals they serve her aren't really all that bad. The UK really tries to serve better meals to kids, and some of the international submissions look delicious.

      Shame on you America, shame for giving our kids food trash in comparison.
    • "Education Bureaucracy" is not involved

      This is local elected officials dictating by fiat what they want. If you want competent people teaching your children, do not blame the "Education Bureacracy", but meddling elected officials.
      Your Non Advocate
  • poor headline

    They didn't 'silence' her, they just said she couldn't take pictures anymore in the cafeteria, which is pretty normal since a lot of schools I know don't even allow electronics during school hours.

    They also did not force her to close down her blog. It was her choice.

    Way to distort the facts, per usual.... #zdnetparforthecourse
    • Although this was UK not US...

      ...it's still a blatant cover-up attempt. The council had no business trying to cover up a mess they probably profited from--thus their forced reversal of the decision once a light was shone on their shameful (but alas typical for petty bureaucrats) actions.

      Wonder if anyone is going to "resign" quietly?
  • School food has always been horrid

    I was a child of the 1970s-1980s and I can personally attest to the fact that school lunches back then tasted just as terrible as they do now. The burritos were deep fried, the chili had a bizarre flavor, the hamburgers were dry and didn't even taste like what we commonly accept to be a hamburger, the pizza was overcooked and salty, the green beans were swimming in grease, the bread was soaked in a butter-like oil substance, and the milk was either sugary chocolate or lukewarm plain. We serve prison food to our kids in order to save a few bucks and make food companies happy who sell this mass-produced garbage.
    • Yeah it was

      I recall having to put a few napkins on the pizza to absorb all the grease... I have never seen a greasier pizza in any restaurant or made at home. I wonder what they did to make it that greasy. The "burgers" made me puke...
  • What's Wrong with Photos?

    So VEG (Martha) takes a photo of her food before posting about it. Big deal. I know people that do that on Facebook now. And shouldn't schools encourage students to be creative and follow through with projects?

    Perhaps more schools should allow this as it creates accountability. The Argyll and Bute food service should be held accountable for it, shouldn't they? We've all heard our kids complain about how bad school lunches are, but with a photoblog such as what Martha created, we would KNOW. Yes, there is some subjectivity due to one student's tastes but so does every food critic blog.

    And, at the heart of the matter, schools are removing accountability. They've done it for teachers and administrators for decades, now it seems they are including staff. "Fear for their jobs"? If they DO serve sub-par meals shouldn't they fear for their jobs? If you constantly perform below average, why would an employer keep you? I'm not saying that Argyll and Bute did or did not perform poorly, I'm just saying that if they did.... there should be changes.
    • Power corrupts in little ways

      All the school had to do was show pictures of their own to counter those shown in the blog. Instead they chose to abuse their power and restrict information. And I completely agree that someone who isn't doing their job *should* be in fear of losing it!
      terry flores
  • It would Appear the Agryll and Bute Council...

    ...has changed its mind.


    And yes its all about bureaucrats. Elected school boards almost always follow staff recommendations on just about everything, at least that's true here in the US.
    • Again, the bureaucracy is with the council

      Don't blame the staff. Blame the council. Elected officials are all too eager to tie the hands of staff and then complain when their own short-sighted policies fail. I do not know where in the US you are living. Nearly every place I read about, elected officials are condemning the "powerful teachers union" and doing everything in their power to cripple educators from doing their job.
      Your Non Advocate
      • Who's talking about teachers?

        I'm talking about staff, endless layers of Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, Assistants to the Superintendent, PR Flacks, Curriculum Directors, Directors of this that and the other (school lunch programs come to mind), etc. The educrats. Here is a link to the Dallas (Texas) Independent School District Org. Chart. http://www.dallasisd.org/cms/lib/TX01001475/Centricity/Domain/48/OrgChart081711.pdf These are the individuals who really run the school districts and cause these kinds of problems. Trustees or whatever cause other kinds of problems.

        But in addition to cleaning out school district administrations gutting the teachers unions and getting rid of things like tenure and implementing pay for performance would be a breath of fresh air (but only since you bring it up)
      • Meh. Texas

        The Texas legislature is too busy trying to teach creation myths in science classes, rewriting American history, and replacing sex education with abstinence in sex ed classes, all the while trying to divert tax payer money to unaccountable private schools. All of these things are not done at the local level, but by the incompetent legislature.
        Your Non Advocate
  • So has the Sun claimed victory yet?

    Haven't seen what the story they undoubtedly ran is, but no doubt they'll try and take credit for the council reversing their decision.
  • friends

    But Tre and rudderless, fatherless friends Ricky (Morris Chestnut) and Dough Boy (Ice Cube) are enmeshed in a world of gang warfare, and soon the cycle of violence catches up to them.Singleton's explosive drama deals head-on with the allure of thug life, inner-city poverty and racism--without ever losing its heart or appeal.