Argyll and Bute council have formally responded to the stushie over the Never Seconds blog.
Before we move on to their response, let’s consider a thoughtful and informed reaction to the ban on VEG taking photos of her lunch and posting them on her blog, by professional photographer Paul Clarke.
Quite sensibly, many non-public locations carry with them restrictions on photography. I very much imagine that schools fall into this category (let’s do the full public/private/who-paid-for-it space analysis another day, hey?). If I, as a photographer – even one visiting my kids – walked in during a normal school day and started firing off shots, even if they weren’t of children, I’d be very likely to be hauled up for it.
And I think that’s ok. A general presumption that “everywhere is ok for a photo” might satisfy some people’s urges for blanket transparency, but there’s no doubt that it would change the character of some spaces that we’d previously thought of as “reserved” in some way. (School as a “child reserve” – there’s a thought.)
He’s quite right. A primary school should have stringent guidelines about photographs being taken. While VEG’s blog kept to within what I feel are perfectly acceptable restrictions – at school she photographed her lunch, on its plate, and only that: the only exception was a photo of one of the wristbands which improve the queuing system, and that only photographed the wristband and a pair of unidentifiable hands holding it. But Paul Clarke also makes a valid point that
If you don’t have some pretty blunt lines about user generated content that puts the school at its very heart, things will get really sticky down the line. What sort of guidelines would be nuanced enough to do a “some things are ok to blog, some things aren’t” job? I wouldn’t fancy writing them (and I’ve written a few).
There is the potential for a kid taking photos at her school and sharing photos taken by other children at their schools, to go very, very wrong. It would be correct for Argyll and Bute, and for VEG’s school, and her parents, to be concerned about the possibility of this happening. At the moment, VEG’s photography and her blog are both very clearly and very well supervised by her parents. If VEG intends to continue this (and I personally hope she does!) there rightly should be some planning done for the future.
However, it’s worth pointing out: in two weeks time, the summer holidays start in Argyll and Bute. Never Seconds would have gone on hiatus for six weeks, unless VEG and her dad opted to post photos of extracurricular lunches. That six weeks break would have been an ideal time for the council’s Education Department, and the school, to consider how they felt the blog could be managed long term if VEG chose to keep it up when she came back to school in August.
But it seems that none of the above was actually what was on the council’s mind. I discussed their Spygate communications problem earlier.
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.
Got that? “Who are you going to believe, us or your lying eyes?”
VEG’s dad has, according to the council, said that even though his daughter’s blog had resulted in media attention on Argyll and Bute school dinners, he wasn’t going to stop his daughter blogging. (Good for him.)
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.
The council’s focus is now on supporting the school in the education of young people in Argyll and Bute.
The Never Seconds blog in fact documents, in a clear and positive way, a gradual improvement in the school dinners available to her and the other students even in the short time it has been running. It is good, constructive, positive criticism, of the kind that should be welcomed by any public service.
“There is no place for censorship in this Council and never will be whilst I am leader. I have advised senior officers that this Administration intends to clarify the Council’s policy position in regard to taking photos in schools. I have therefore requested senior officials to consider immediately withdrawing the ban on pictures from the school dining hall until a report can be considered by Elected Members. This will allow the continuation of the “Neverseconds” blog written by an enterprising and imaginative pupil”
He notes that the unjustified attack on the school caterers by a newspaper was neither the fault of the blog, nor could it be tolerated by the council, and adds:
We need to find a united way forward so I am going to bring together our catering staff, the pupils, councillors and council officials – to ensure that the council continues to provide healthy, nutrious and attractive school meals. That “School Meals Summit” will take place later this summer.
Final updates, nearly midnight:
Mary’s Meals: The donations from Never Seconds Just Giving page raised enough money to build a kitchen in Malawi and to feed an entire school with Mary’s Meals for a whole year.
“She has broken the record for hitting a Sponsor A School online fundraising target in the quickest amount of time! …. As well as being able to build a brand new shelter, ….. we will also be able to feed all the 1,963 pupils at Lirangwe Primary School in Blantyre, Malawi for an entire school year!”
Interview with VEG’s dad:
How not to write a press release, Argyll and Bute Council style – an analysis of the first press statement issued by Argyll and Bute Council.
Update, 26th November
VEG of Never Seconds wins a Liberty award – Human Rights Young Person of the Year – and meets Rowan Atkinson and Benedict Cumberbatch and Shami Chakrabarti:
‘For defending free expression when she stood up to her local council after they banned her publishing pictures of school meals on her blog, NeverSeconds. Reports of the ban caused widespread national and international outcry and, as a result, the council backed down. Since then, her website has been visited by over 6 million people and has raised over £100,000 for Mary’s Meals, a charity which helps feed children in the developing world.’