Council bans 9 year old’s school dinner photo blog

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 was 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 had raised over £2000 to provide school meals in Africa. Since 7am this morning, she has more than tripled that total.

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 would be contacting the Council.

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 how much money we can help her raise.

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.

Update: Since I wrote this early this morning, Argyll and Bute Council have released a statement which, if you are being charitable, can be described as ill advised. It amounts to “we don’t like your opinion so we’re banning it.” Not, I might suggest, the best lesson in tolerance and understanding to model to children.

The statement begins:

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.

Unwarranted attacks? Dinner ladies fearing for their jobs? Did anyone in their press office ever actually read Martha’s blog?  I’ve just gone and done some rough calculations on her reviews and her average mark was 7.59 out of 10. I think it would have been quite easy for the Council to reassure their staff.

The Argyll and Bute Press Office would maybe find some helpful advice in a post last year by our own Olly Grender who gave 12 tips for dealing with a crisis.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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15 Comments

  • Caron – agree, but it is Roddy McCuish, the SNP Council Leader in Argyll and Bute, that we should be writing to! As ever the SNP try to shift blame to officials for decision they should never have allowed to happen in first place.

  • What’s really scary is that the council have the power to stop a child taking photographs like this.

    We’ve managed to sleepwalk into 1984 without even noticing and the Lib Dems are supporting the snoopers charter

  • From what I gather from online articles, it went something like this – am I right?- the SNP called for and got a suspension of Argyll & Bute’s head of communications in February over claims that, at a conference of PR professionals, she had set up online spy accounts. The conference had, however, taken place five months earlier in September 2011, with no complaints made at the time, so there are claims that the inquiry call and suspension were electioneering by the SNP (although it seems that the comms culture in the council left something to be desired). During the inquiry, two press officers then resigned over comments made online that were revealed by said inquiry. The SNP then won the elections, and then, a couple of weeks into the new administration, find themselves with a PR crisis and no proper team to handle it (I gather the head of comms is still suspended?). Biter bit…

    I deplore the decision to ban the blog (or photos) and the way it occurred. Yes, this whole medium is still new to all of us, and we have to work out how to navigate the waters, but at the end of the day all we’ll be able to do is apply common sense. Children WILL blog about school. Pictures of food – OK. Cyberbullying and dodgy pictures of schoolfriends – not OK.

  • Andrew Ducker 15th Jun '12 - 12:02pm

    And the council has put out a scare-mongering piece as a response here:
    http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/news/2012/jun/statement-school-meals-argyll-and-bute-council

  • Oh my goodness, the press statement the council has just put out – it “wholly refutes the unwarranted attacks”?! And it accuses Martha of misrepresenting the choices available? It’s a PERSONAL blog, and its author is candid about the choices she makes – she admits that she sometimes chooses shortbread with sugar on it. The main thing is that she’s thinking, calmly and honestly, about what she eats – which is apparently the main route to sensible and healthy eating. (And a far better one IMO than the dictatorial one taken by many educational authorities that has apparently resulted in children not wanting to eat cheese because it’s fatty!).

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 15th Jun '12 - 12:46pm

    I’ve just done an average of the marks Martha posted on her blog for the dinners. It’s 7.59/10. How on earth that had Argyll and Bute dinner ladies fearing for their jobs I have no idea.

    Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie has also put out a statement criticising the Council:

    Argyll and Bute council have made a dogs dinner of this. Rather than seriously deal with the pupil’s concerns, they have chosen to silence her.

    “I am delighted by her enterprising approach to highlighting an age-old problem, and encourage the council to work with her to create healthy and tasty school dinners.

    “By reviewing good dinners as well as bad Martha was being fair, it’s a shame that the Council haven’t followed her example.

    “Martha clearly has a bright future ahead of her. We should be seeking to reward her courage, not ban it.”

  • toryboysnevergrowup 15th Jun '12 - 12:47pm

    Since when has beating up on 9 year olds not been something for which the councillors responsible should resign. – and that means you Mr Roddy McCuish!

  • jenny barnes 15th Jun '12 - 1:44pm

    “Argyll and Bute Council wholly refutes the unwarranted attacks”

    No they don’t. They can deny it, if they like, but the clearly don’t understand what the word “refute” means. Always nice to see that those in charge of education don’t have a clue.

  • Nigel Ashton 15th Jun '12 - 1:57pm

    The ban has now been lifted
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-18454800

    Another victory for the blogosphere!

  • Keith Browning 15th Jun '12 - 7:29pm

    Martha seems to have done more to improve school food than any celebrity nonsense from Jamie Oliver – and much more cheaply.

  • A backhanded complement to Argyll and Bute Council; the total donated to Mary’s Meals via Martha’s Just giving page is now £91,506.

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