Way back in April, 9 year old Martha Payne started reviewing her school dinners. Every day she wrote on her Never Seconds blog, under the pseudonym Veg, short for Veritas Ex Gustu which means Truth from Tasting in Latin. The blog quickly became an internet sensation and she and her Dad were interviewed on the BBC’s You and Yours in May.
Each day, Martha would rate dinner at her Lochgilphead primary school on criteria such as Food-o-Meter, health rating, how many mouthfuls and how many pieces of hair were in it. What made the blog were the photos she posted to illustrate her reviews. Some days she didn’t have her camera and so she drew her dinner instead.
Martha’s school were very supportive of her writing project. She often had good things to say about her meals and attracted the attention of celebrity chefs Nick Nairn and Jamie Oliver.
She also used her blog to raise money for charity. In six weeks it has raised over £2000 to provide school meals in Africa.
Sadly, though, this was too much for Argyll and Bute Council. Yesterday Martha recounted how she was sent for during her Maths class in a post entitled Goodbye:
I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today.
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.
Her Dad Dave added:
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.
It is a shame that a blog that today went through 2 million hits, which has inspired debates at home and abroad and raised nearly £2000 for charity is forced to end.
Now, let’s give Argyll and Bute Council the benefit of the doubt for the moment. It may well be that they know that the best way to attract attention to something is to ban it. This may not be the entirely unreasonable, churlish and petulant action that it appears to be.
Scottish Education Secretary Mike Russell, who also happens to be the local MSP tweeted last night that he thought it was a daft decision and he’d be taking it up with the Council.
I sought out my local Councillor, Andrew Miller’s view on this as he was until last month responsible for education in West Lothian and he is usually pretty sensible. He didn’t want to directly criticise Argyll and Bute Council because he didn’t know enough about the actual situation there, who took the decision and their reasoning but he felt that:
As long as she was being fair (ie not setting up false images) then I’d think she should be perfectly entitled to express her opinions. If the council are worried about the quality of their meals being shown then the obvious solutions is to provide better food to the kids.
Andrew went on to say how good it would be for literacy if we could find a way to get every kid to go home each day after school and write 4 or 5 lines about anything at all.
If you are as convinced as I am that this decision needs to be reversed, you may want to write to Argyll and Bute’s Chief Executive Sally Loudon and make your views known through their website. Funnily enough, though, and I’m sure entirely coincidentally, their website is down this coming weekend. Never mind. They have a Twitter account you can contact. You may also be motivated to donate to Martha’s charity effort here. Let’s see if we can get her to her £7000 target.
Let’s hope that common sense prevails and the ban on Never Seconds is soon lifted. How dare this Council silence a beautiful, compassionate and articulate voice.