A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46



In April 1942 the Wartime Survey was asked by the Scottish Education Department whether it would be possible to provide information on how parents and children react to school meals. At the time of the request about 17% of the Scottish school children received meals at school.

The Department gave us a completely free hand to use whatever method we thought best to conduct the survey. There were two ways open - to interview a sample of children, or to let the children write essays on the subject. A few months prior to this, Mr. LeGros Clark had published the results of an investigation on “The School Child and the School Canteen” which was carried out for the Hertfordshire County Council; this he based on essays written by 600 children on “Dinner at home or at school - which is preferred?”. He reported that he found the essay method quite satisfactory in spite of certain shortcomings. To have comparable results of a survey on the same problem for another part of the British Isles seemed such an advantage that we decided to use exactly the same method.

Directors of Education were approached by means of a letter, the text of which was mainly a quotation of that sent out by Mr. LeGros Clark:-

“Now that school canteens have become, temporarily at least, a feature in the life of many schools, it seems important to inquire in what manner the minds of the children themselves are being affected by this change in their meal habits. A few, of course, had the experience of taking school meals before the war; but the war has vastly increased the number. The comments made by the children themselves in their essays are often influenced by passing moods or by the opinions they have heard expressed by parents or teachers. But it seems worth while to attempt the experiment of eliciting frank comments from the older children in an essay upon such a subject as “Dinner at home or at school - which is preferred?”....It is proposed that the subject should be set as an essay to the children of one or two classes without warning. A few preliminary remarks might be made by the teacher to indicate the framework of the essay and the main headings; and the children should be encouraged to write their impressions and opinions as frankly as possible. It could be indicated to them that this is an important business for the Government, because it has to be decided whether to have school meals after the war or not.”

This letter was followed up by the visit of an interviewer, who explained the purpose of the inquiry more fully. Contacts were then made with headmasters, who were asked to obtain the essays on the lines suggested in the letter and to send them uncorrected to the head office of the Survey,

Usually interviewers visited a dining centre, had a meal with the children, and reported on the food, service, surroundings, etc. We found this information most useful when interpreting the results of the survey.

The information obtained by the essay method was supplemented by interviews with mothers whose children could, but did not, take part in school meals. At the time of this inquiry, another survey was being made about the consumption of oatmeal and potatoes, among 2,000 housewives in different parts of Scotland. All those whose children could but did not take school meals (236 in all,) were asked “Why does your child not take school meals?”

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